‘An Affirming Faith in The Face of Covid’             

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. We no longer think that sin is that simple or able to be relieved by an interventionist God.

There is a story that gives us a bit of a modern version of that old way of 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. And by not so ancient I mean that they may only be 500 or so years old. 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. Some of us may still slip into that thinking as it has been so strong in our lives. The God of this thinking when held up against the whole picture is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and of the reward of good health and prosperity for the righteous. It is a simple view but one under huge challenge today.

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. The leader said: ‘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’s 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. The war in Ukraine discussion, the legitimacy of the recent vaccination protest and its 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 requires a slightly different approach than climate change, I agree that we cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current approach to conflict. 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, and the assault on freedoms rights and outcomes but that is a management issue and it is not enough, rather, I thing it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  Sally reminds us that 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 because we all die 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 three years ago. 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 about what a protest is and how it should be managed 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-deprecating 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 with violence and control and more legislation.

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

rexae74@gmail.com

Video: The Path of Wisdom

We are ‘Living Stones’

Posted: March 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

We are ‘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 only to walk where he walked, if one can actually do that, but to walk how he walked.

When one thinks about that we realize that it is a huge 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. Even more so these days when all that seems to be failing and the people who walk the Way seem to be disappearing fast. It’s a big deal for sure to walk in his shoes but there is an even bigger deal I suspect and that is to be living stones, to walk the Jesus Way today in this time and place, 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. What appears to be stones is rather those, standing off to the side looking in, watching the decline, different, and noticeable. Let’s be fair also. They might have been called prophets in the past. But they are a bit like protesters who forget what they are protesting about or get caught up in a new interpretation of cause. They are valued for a moment but they are dead stones and we are called to be stones that live and thus living stones. It is a fine line here for sure because as 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. The task of a living stone is to be an outsider and different and unique but an alien. And by definition that means over and against the accepted common place culturally bound, assumptions about goodness and mercy and purpose and action. 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 but I want to suggest that the term might better be living stones, Stones that are about a faith journey, rooted firmly in the humanness, and the planet always looking for the benefit of both in a symbiotic relationship where the stability, integrity, honesty and courage, vitality, innovation, creative and vibrancy are always organic living events of love.

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 only means you are a citizen of another country. Whereas Paul in his letter to the Philippians reminds Christians that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Thus, good Christian education, at the very least, involves helping people understand as well as practice what it means to be resident aliens, or as I suggest Living Stones.

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 is meant by being a ‘Living Stone’.  

One of the interesting things I thought when hearing a couple talk about their vision and aspiration for their new Early Learning Child Centre 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 much modern education divorces humankind from its dependence on God and rightly so because it is not about dependence but rather about active, responsible collaboration as part of an organic whole. Some education replaces religious answers to many of the ultimate questions of human existence with secular answers as if secularism is somehow opposed to religion which it is not. It was birthed in western religion; and, to segregate the secular form religion is to compartmentalize and alienate the world from the conscious participation of the human. In its most extreme it replaces what it sees as extremism with its own most striking, secular understanding of reality as a matter of faith. In other words the secular is given the clothes of religion.

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.

The question we face today is what are the values, learnings and questions that require telling and how do we tell the stories in a world of avatar, AI, Cyberspace, a Universe that is infinitely larger than our imagination can conceive. The children’s stories need to be far more relevant than they are now. The simple has shifted.

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, the story has God reminding 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. It is an evolutionary reality, an organic expression and as I have suggested elsewhere God is not a noun but more of a verb.  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 beings 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 it claims 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. They are ‘Living Stones’ Adaptable, evolutionary and alive as well as the a very crucial participant of creation, evolution and its cyclical or spiral reality.

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 evolving 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.

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 ideal thought but as legitimization of thinking and alternative viewpoints 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). 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.

Luke 4: 1-13

A ‘Self Affirming’ Lent…

Wednesday 6th February 2022. 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 that it was the day the police chose to clear and disperse the so-called protesters in front of parliament in Wellington City. There is ash about as a result of what can only be termed as destructive fires. Destructive in the fact that they have destroyed the utopian idea of regenerative protest. Again it seems that a clear and sure understanding of Lent is required when we face the despair and loss and grief that has been raised by such Ash and the understanding must address the regenerative nature of the production of ash or in this case the regenerative ideal of genuine protest.

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 and in the recent 800 to 1000 years 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 a priori 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. Despite the actions of the recent protest, actions many question as protest action we no longer see the nature of natural fire as only destructive because we know its warmth, we know its comfort and we know its 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. Ian McGilchrist speaks of the brain hemispheres functions as no longer reducible by allocation to one or the other but rather integrated across and within both hemispheres The left providing the detailed functional how and what questions and the right the why but both being required to provide the whole picture and or action. For the bird watcher the 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. Both hemispheres are required in birdwatching as they are for life that is both functional and has meaning. And when they are in sync one’s walks in the park or paddock becomes 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 be 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. What is the function and meaning of the protest we engage in perhaps? And in Jesus’ case it was to break the culture of violence characterized by a ‘tit-for-tat’ them and us 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. Last week I spoke of the idea of the thick and thin places as an incarnational example, spirituality found in the thin places and I proposed that these thin places might be discovered amongst the thick places or about seeing 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

‘Thick and Thin Places’    

Posted: February 26, 2022 in Uncategorized

‘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 read Elaine 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 children 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. In a life that is overwhelmingly filled with reason and fact and certainty, or at least the feverish attempt to capture it.

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. He says; “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.

  • Our God or that which we call 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.
  • That which we name 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.
  • God, or that which we name God is not a noun but a verb, an action, an unfolding, revealing dynamic event. If you like it could also be an adverb such as an ‘Almost’.

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.

This morning’s sermon is an attempt to claim that Radical Change is the move from a confident certainty of faith to a faith of great weakness and that the social reversal is to see and acknowledge the harm done by a misinterpretation of what loving one’s enemies actually means.

Firstly, we have to admit that there are some biblical stories we’d rather not preach on or tell. And that this morning’s story by Luke might be one of them. It could be that preaching on this story is like walking on eggshells. One is aware that in every congregation or community there are people who are fragile and at various points in their lives vulnerable, and this story can come like a vicious stomping. It can be heard as ‘stay in your abusive relationship’ or ‘Love your rapist.’ Or simply bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. Love the one who robs you or freedom, who beats you, bullies you, destroys your life. And we are reminded that, “There are women and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent man, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, to turn the other cheek and go back and love him.  And some of those women and children are now dead because of that callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

In light of this hesitation and these horrible examples of an enemy we have to revisit these words of Luke’s Jesus. We have to re-examine the meaning of the words such as: love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, present the other cheek… and we have to see that they are not addressed to individual people who have been the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are not to be used in this way, but rather as words addressed to those who have power… They are addressed to people who have 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.

John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says: “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 is of a radical theology of a radical social reversal that was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. A call to people to do that good in actual practice…
“not to be seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who trusted God” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt when exploring this text makes comment about two examples of this radical social reversal. The first was Martin Luther King Jr whose 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.”

King believed that those who held the real power would not be changed by force or perhaps even a winning argument but rather by incremental, cultural and social acceptability. A change rooted in loving one’s enemies. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Another of this ilk was Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize 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 dehumanized, then inexorably I am dehumanized. 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.’ Again, Desmond Tutu was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

About now all this sounds good and logical so what is it that makes it radical theology? Or what might be Jesus’ word to us today when he says Love your enemies?

We what is the nature of this power that Jesus calls us to? What does a weak theology or a weak God look like? Well! What if the Genesis narrative was about the weak force of God in the face of God’s mightiest feat, creation, which, however exhilarating, is a feat of cyclical spinning of clay that needs re-spinning? Maybe we should be honest and not hide that fact that the power lies not in the completion of, nor in the success of but rather in the ambiguity of, the incompleteness of, and the weak force that is ultimately stronger than the strong power. Maybe the message is that we have had power up our sleeve right from the start. And it is when we side with the lowly of this world we would then be visited by the power of God, who love his enemies. The humbling of human power in order to exalt the mighty power of God is a ruse; it uses weakness in a bait-and-switch game, as a lure in order to spring power at the crucial moment. We should have the strength of our convictions and allow our weak theology and anarchic hypothesis to play itself out, to stretch all the way from the world to include God. The power of this weak God is deployed to confound the powerful, all the way to God, to what we have been calling the weakness of God.

So, in Caputo’s words we pose the question: what if, in the name of a weak theology, we reconceived God as something unconditional but without sovereignty? What if the event that stirs in the name of God is the event of a weak force? What then? Remember here that the gap we spoke of earlier. The God of the gap is best described as ad interim or ‘Almost’. In being ‘Almost’ there opens up an alternative possibility than the highly hierarchical power story that emerged in the later theological tradition.

If we take another look at this argument for a weak theology, we can consider how creation form nothing would, work against the traditional idea of the “gift” that God is giving. Without the in-originate desert and the watery deep, God cannot give a true gift because God cannot give up or give over, not in truth, and expose Godself to risk, or make Godself vulnerable. As Moltmann says, God cannot love if God cannot make himself vulnerable. Without the desert and the deep, God would remain in such total annihilatory, exnihilatory absolute control of what God makes, God would retain so much possession of what God gives, with so much power over it, that it would only be by a weak analogy that we could speak of a gift or of God giving, or even of the production of something “other” than God. The word by which God lets the world be must also be the word by which God lets the world go, letting Godself in for something that God did not bargain for or see coming.

When we idealize God into an ideal observer who knows and sees everything past, present, and coming, we leave behind the biblical narrative in which Yahweh lets himself in for a future that he had not planned on and in which he comes to regret his decision. The possibility of regret is a condition of the possibility of the gift. Time is not a creature in these narratives—the Hebrews did not have a Platonic idea of eternity beyond time. Rather, time is the element in which they transpire, the common horizon of God and the elements, while the foreseeability of the future is an elemental part of time.

Otherwise, creation is just more of the divine self-same, God and more God, the same engendering the same, and there would be no alterity in creation. That kind of ex nihilo monotheism is continually exposed to pantheism, on the one hand, where God simply suffocates the very world into which God was trying to breathe life, or, on the other hand, to the reduction of religion to the sycophantic praise of a transcendent Power-God who would seem to enjoy such obsequiousness, of a Zeus-like oriental tyrant or a decadent Roman emperor, to whom we pray for magical interventions on the course of history and nature. Without the mythological tohu wa-bohu and the tehom, the horizon of the narratives is dramatically and disproportionately shifted away from that of beauty, goodness, and life and over to that of power and of being. They are turned into explanations of why the world is there, instead of proclamations that what is there is beautiful. God is love, the world is God’s and it is the unconditional fragility and serendipitous-ness that reveals and is revealed in the beautiful weakness of God. ‘Almost. Radical change, social reversal. Love one’s enemies and know the real power of God.

I want to end this with a call from Rex Hunt. Where he says; “live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. Nourish your entire life with integrity and be empowered with compassion, that you may indeed live a new kind of life in this world. Amen.

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

Caputo, John D. The Weakness of God (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) (p. 84). Indiana University Press. Kindle Edition.

rexae74@gmail.com

Evolution and the Gift of Wisdom

Posted: February 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

Proverbs 8:1-7a, 8-9

Evolution and the Gift of Wisdom

Almost all evidence points to the fact that the mystery we call God insists that existence should prevail. The question we might have though is how and what do we have in common? I want to explore the idea that nature is the best example of existence and that it might be human wisdom that insists we look there. It is just possible that the future of the planet and the human race depends on getting a handle on the human to nature relationship and it might just be that it is one and the same with desire and the how.

“Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs
must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.
Whether it is our view of the world, our image of ourselves, or our beliefs about God – everything
must be rethought in response to our knowledge of how deeply we are rooted
in natural processes” (Philip Hefner 2008:x).

“God is not a being but a process: God does not create the universe;
God is the process of creation (Karl Peters 1989: 481).

Around this tie (12 Feb) some of us celebrate Darwin Day.  The reflection begins by reminding ourselves that: “Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809.  Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin – the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor.  More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity” (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog site).

And to honour his birth, in much of the progressive religion network throughout the world, this day is once again being recognised liturgically as ‘Evolution Sunday’ The compatibility of science and religion. Not the pseudo-science of intelligent design – ID, or its earlier incarnation called ‘creationism’. But real science.

The church, historically, has had a hard time with evolution. It is the church – or perhaps more accurately – it is religious people who go to church, who build Creation Museums (in the USA and Queensland) and fund authors to write books to attack evolution. And attack ministers who embrace evolution. There are stories that in the USA people have been attacked over this issue usually in Letters to the Editor, by another minister (of a different denomination). And all because they signed ‘The Clergy Letter’. The attacking minister wrote: “What you have espoused and embraced and have now taught others is nothing short of outright apostasy.  The signatories of the ‘Open Letter Considering Religion and Science’ have affixed their names to an apostate document.  It is a damnable denial of the biblical gospel.”

Charles Darwin, as resident naturalist, sailed to the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle, where he encountered evidence “of great diversity between animals of the distant past and those of the present” (www.progressivetheology.org).

Darwin’s book quickly became the topic of conversation in both scientific and church circles.
Indeed, one of the more persistent tales of the relations between science and religion
is the story of Thomas Huxley’s encounter with Samuel ‘Soapy Sam’ Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford.

In June 1860, following one particular presentation at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Wilberforce was, so the story goes, invited to make a response. “Addressing a crowded meeting, the bishop paused during his monologue, turned to Huxley and asked whether it was on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’ side that he was descended from an ape.  Huxley was ready with a reply… that he would prefer a miserable ape to a man who employs his great faculties and influence for the purpose of ridicule” (Wilson 1998:44).

“It is a story”, writes Karen Armstrong, “that brilliantly encapsulates the ‘warfare’ myth in its depiction of intrepid Science victoriously triumphing over complacent Religion” (Armstrong 2009:243). The outcome is that the impact of Darwin’s thesis, which 12 years later he called ‘evolution’, was felt in most parts of the world. And most scientists today still accept Darwin’s theory as foundational to the modern scientific study of biology.

What is interesting is the claim that Charles Darwin eventually jettisoned any notion of a God
“let alone one that might be involved in the process of evolution” writes Canadian Bruce Sanguin (Sanguin 2007:120). But who or what was the ‘God’ Darwin rejected?  Sanguin continues: “Clearly, Darwin rejected a designed God, who was in absolute control of the universe; in other words, the God of supernatural theism… This continues to be the God and the ‘Christian faith’ most atheists and agnostics reject” (Sanguin 2007:121).

 And despite the millions of people leaving the traditional church and the growth of the none’s when it come to religious adherence the church still persists in its supernaturalism which condemns nature to a tool of human power and control. Domination is the driving desire as humanity seeks to become the sacredness itself.

Prior to modern science, most Christians, following a literal interpretation ( a recent phenomenon) of the Genesis stories, believed the flat earth was created only about 4000 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (another recent phenomenon). Or, if they followed a certain Archbishop Ussher literally: at 9.00am on 3 October 4004 BCE. Today, based on many controlled observations combined with rational theory, we have mentally constructed another universe.

The most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the 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.

And: “if we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour, humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127).

So, 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.

Which is why a growing number of people around the world are beginning to recognise that our modern life-style is: harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns. We can no longer think and feel that humans are separate from the ‘environment’…  “we must think and feel that we are part of and at one with the whole holy system we call the global ecosystem” (Gillette 2006:4).

Progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’, to live in harmony with, nature.  For such is to live inspired (in-spirited, in-the-Spirit) lives. And progressive religious thought names that creativity which indwells and sustains all life forms… Galaxy. Organism. Individual atom… And this demands that we approach what we understand as ‘God’ or ‘the sacred’ differently. Some of the new challenges centre around renaming God as a verb as opposed to a noun, a dynamic or ‘serendipitous creating’. Or as John D Caputo argues a God that does not exist but rather insists and might be known as ‘perhaps’. I prefer the word ‘almost’ as a definition, or descriptive in trying to protect the positive, intentional understanding of love’s impact on reality.

Rex Hunt reminds us of a poem he discovered in 2005. 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
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).

Likewise, environmentalist John Muir has also offered this comment: “Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another” (Quoted in Peters 1989:478).

This weekend is the 201st anniversary celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin.
And to honour his birth, today is recognised as ‘Evolution Sunday’.

It needs to be said that Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist many religious folk like to berate, has been a catalyst for some new thinking around the topic of evolution. He
has written a book, The Greatest Show on Earth.  The Evidence for Evolution.

In it he says evolution is a fact.  He writes: “Our present beliefs about many things may be disproved, but we can with complete confidence make a list of certain facts that will never be disproved.  Evolution and the heliocentric theory weren’t always among them, but they are now” (Dawkins 2009:17).

He then goes on to say: “In the rest of this book, I shall determine that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty” (Dawkins 2009:18).

Evolution is the greatest show on Earth.  “Perhaps the greatest story ever told”.  And as an American Minister colleague of Rex Hunt goes on to say: “we should be teaching it and celebrating it in school and in church with religious fervor.  We need to sing hymns to the glory of natural selection” (Shuck&Jive, blog site, 1/2010).

Dawkins and number of scientists and theologians wrote a letter to the British Prime Minister regarding teaching evolution in school. Great Britain, it seems, is being hounded by the superstitious – ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ as is other parts of the world.

For instance:

• 44 % of Americans believe that God created Earth as it is 10,000 years ago;

Only 42% of Australians ‘believe in evolution’.

Now while Dawkins is happy that enlightened bishops and theologians are writing letters, they need to do more.  He says:

“To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they’d put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore.  All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed!  If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely ‘symbolic’ meaning, perhaps something to do with ‘original sin’, or the virtues of innocence.  They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally.  But do their congregations know that?  How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, and which symbolically?  Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess?  In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused”.

Dawkins isn’t finished.  He pushes his point: “Think about it, Bishop.  Be careful, Vicar.  You are playing with dynamite, fooling around with a misunderstanding that’s waiting to happen—one might even say almost bound to happen if not forestalled.  Shouldn’t you take greater care, when speaking in public, to let your yea be yea and your nay be nay?  Lest ye fall into condemnation, shouldn’t you be going out of your way to counter that already extremely widespread popular misunderstanding and lend active and enthusiastic support to scientists and science teachers?” (Dawkins 2009: 7-8).

So, what of wisdom? My title suggested that Evolution was and is a gift of wisdom. This I suggest implies that wisdom is essentially that which is always the most learned response to anything and that it arrives new and creates awareness. It is more than the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. It is an example of insight, good sense, judgement, and challenges the status quo while at the same time confirms what somehow, we already know. It is the quality of being wise which is somehow an accumulation of philosophical, scientific and common knowledge. This is why in many cultures celebrate the aged purely on the assumption that the older one is the more one has learnt about the meaning of life and subsequently what it means to be human. The marker is that it is a heartwarming experience for the recipient even when seemingly challenging the traditional thought or belief.

An example of a wise person in the context of religious or Christian thinking is that of the life and work of Rachel Held Evans; a young brilliant theologian who died at the age of 38 in 2019 and Adam Twining and Tom Cantwell wrote an article giving us an idea of her thinking about the Progressive offering to the new world we are living in. Below is a transcript of a conversation she might have had in response to a question about her journey in thinking. She is responding to the fundamentalist evangelical tradition that she was brought up in and gave her ministry to and for. For her the arrival of wisdom was heart-warming in its discovery and devastating in its challenge.

“They, said that if I questioned a 6,000-year-old earth, I would question whether other parts of Scripture should be read scientifically and historically.

They were right.  I did.

They said that if I entertained the hope that those without access to the gospel might still be loved and saved by God, I would fall prey to the dangerous idea that God loves everyone,  that there is nothing God won’t do to reconcile all things to Himself.

They were right. I have. 

They said that if I looked for Jesus beyond the party line, I could end up voting for liberals.

They were right. I do (sometimes). 

They said that if I listened to my gay and lesbian neighbors, if I made room for them in my church and in my life, I could let grace get out of hand.

They were right.  It has.

They told me that this slippery slope would lead me away from God, that it would bring a swift end to my faith journey, that I’d be lost forever.

But with that one, they were wrong.

Yes, the slippery slope brought doubts. Yes, the slippery slope brought change. Yes, the slippery slope brought danger and risk and unknowns. I am indeed more exposed to the elements out here, and at times it is hard to find my footing. 

But when I decided I wanted to follow Jesus as myself, with both my head and heart intact, the slippery slope was the only place I could find him, the only place I could engage my faith honestly.

So down I went.

It was easier before, when the path was wide and straight.

But, truth be told, I was faking it.  I was pretending that things that didn’t make sense made sense, that things that didn’t feel right felt right.  To others, I appeared confident and in control, but faith felt as far away as friend who has grown distant and cold.

Now, every day is a risk.

Now, I have no choice but to cling to faith and hope and love for dear life.

Now, I have to keep a very close eye on Jesus, as he leads me through deep valleys and precarious peaks. 

But the view is better, and, for the first time in a long time, I am fully engaged in my faith.

I am alive.

I am dependent.

I am following Jesus as me—heart and head intact. 

And they were right.  All it took was a question or two to bring me here.”

Biological, Philosophical, Scientific, Intellectual, evolution is a gift of wisdom that comes when the big picture holds the primary role and when community, human relations with everything and collective agency are valued as the imperative. And this is not to belittle the individual but rather to value it as an individuality vital for wisdom. Wisdom is more than the sum of its parts.

Right about now the reader might be thinking yes this is common sense is I not, and that would be true but since the 18th Century we in the west at least have not acted as though that is so. Amen.

Bibliography:
Anderson, L. & C. Brotman. Kid’s Book of Awesome Stuff. Biddeford: Brotman Marsh-Field Curriculums, 2004.
Armstrong, K. The Case for God. What Religion Really Means. London: The Bodley Head, 2009.
Frame, T.  Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2009.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. 2006. (An online journal).
Hefner, P. “Forward” in J. A. Stone. Religious Naturalism Today. The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.
Hunt, R. A. E. & J. W. H. Smith. (ed) Why Weren’t We Told? A Handbook on Progressive Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2013.
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology and God. Harrisburg: Trinity International Press, 2002
Peters, K. E. “Humanity in Nature: Conserving yet Creating” in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 24, 4, 1989. 469-485. 
Sanguin, B. Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos. An Ecological Christianity. Kelowna: CopperHouse/Wood Lake Publishing, 2007.
Wilson, Louise. (ed) Charles Darwin at Down House. Britain. English Heritage, 1998.

Dawkins, R. 2009. The Greatest Show on Earth.  The Evidence for Evolution. NY: New York. Free Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

A New Appreciation of the Sacred

Posted: January 31, 2022 in Uncategorized

A New Appreciation of the Sacred

The fishing motif in Luke’s story this morning has traditionally, it seems, been regarded as a kind of recruiting slogan. Apparently, according to someone the US Army had at one time an invitation to be all you can be’. This sounds almost religious today. In traditional churchy language, it is regarded as a ‘call’, or a calling by God I guess to make it sound something special and spiritual. But, I’m not so sure about that anymore because it now seem in church circles to be about recruitment to one’s own congregation, bums on seats that think like me perhaps?

It is interesting to note however that this particular story by Luke doesn’t seem to suggest this recruitment is about ‘follow me’ because these words are only found in the version of the story
by those we call Mark and Matthew. And because we recognise a similar theme in Luke,
as Luke has obviously known about the existence of those stories, we do our own blending of all the stories, into one general story.

So, Luke, it seems to me, is saying something far more radical. Not about ‘call’ or ‘catching’ with all the different images associated with those words. But about coming to a new understanding, being captivated and swept of one’s feet. Being transformed perhaps?

Conversations with this story suggest that Peter and some of his friends are captivated by Jesus.
It’s almost like they are ‘swept off their feet’ by him. Both by being in Jesus’ presence.  And by the life-giving things he is saying. Ian McGilchrist might say that they have been confronted with what they already knew but have become aware and in attendance with ‘aha’ moment. This again is not about recruitment but rather about one’s awareness of what it means to be human and on a higher plane. The ups and downs of life the conflicts of thought, the battle for identity all gelling in the awareness moment of connecting the dots so to speak. This makes different his words “Don’t continue to be afraid. You will be restoring people to life and strength”. Its more than just believing because while belief is required it is not all, while responding the call is obedience or surrender it is not all. You see… for Luke, Jesus was a special human being and we hear more of that in the beautiful birth stories each Christmas. We hear that in this fishing story. And being special made Jesus different. But how was Luke to say that?

There is story by Jack Shea which Rex Hunt has quoted and I think it is worth hearing in this context as we try to get a handle on the Jesus Luke is talking about and trying to convince his readers to meet. The story goes; “Once upon a time, there was a very pious couple. They had married with great love and the love never died. Their greatest hope was to have a child
so their love could walk the earth with joy. Yet there were difficulties.  Since they were very pious, they prayed, and prayed and prayed. With that, along with considerable other efforts, lo and behold the wife conceived. And nine months later there came rumbling into the world, a delightful little boy.  They named him Mordecai. And the sun and the moon were his toys. He was outgoing and zestful, gulping down the days and dreaming through the nights. And he grew in age, and wisdom, and grace until it was time to go to the synagogue and study the Torah, the Law of God.

The night before his studies were to begin his parents sat Mordecai down and told him how important the Word of God was. They stressed that without the Word of God Mordecai would be an autumn leaf in the winter’s wind. He listened wide-eyed. Yet the next day he never arrived at the synagogue. Instead, he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. And when he came home at night, the news had spread throughout the small village. Everyone knew of his shame. His parents were beside themselves. They did not know what to do. So they called in the behaviour modificationalists who modified Mordecai’s behaviour, so that there was no more behaviour of Mordecai’s that was not modified. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. So they called in the psychoanalysts who unblocked Mordecai’s blockages so there were no more blockages for Mordecai to be blocked by. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself again in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. His parents grieved for their beloved son. There seemed to be no hope. It was at this time that the great Rabbi visited the village. And the parents said, “Ah! Perhaps the Rabbi…” And so they took Mordecai to the Rabbi and told him their tale of woe. And the Rabbi bellowed, “Leave the boy with me, and I will have a talk with him.” Mordecai’s parents were terrified. So he would not go to the synagogue, but to leave their beloved son with this lion of a man… But they had come this far, so they left him. Now Mordecai stood in the hallway
and the Rabbi was in the study and he looked through the door at him and said, “Boy, come here.”

Trembling, Mordecai came forward. And then the great Rabbi picked him up and held him silentlyagainst his heart. His parents came to get him and they took Mordecai home. And the next day, he went to the synagogue to learn the Word of God. And when he was done, he went to the woods. And the Word of God became one with the word of the woods which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he swam in the lake. And the Word of God became one with the word of the lake which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he climbed the trees.
And the Word of God became one with the word of the trees which became one with the word of Mordecai. Mordecai himself grew up and became a great man. And people came to him who were broken inside. And with him they found healing. And people came to him seized with inner panic.
And with him, they found peace. And people came to him who were without anybody.
And with him they found communion. And people came to him, with no exits at all. With him, they found possibilities. And Mordecai often said, “I first learned the Word of God when the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.”

The recruitment plane failed miserably because it was not aware of the transformation, it manipulated, encouraged, exhorted and belittled but it did not see that Mordecai was special. Nor did the call acknowledge that it is not in some holy or sacred place but in the midst of their ordinary everyday life that awareness happens. In doing what they did most days, sometimes with regular monotony, Peter and some of his friends were captivated by the presence of Jesus.

Just as Jesus was captivated by the Source and Ground of Life, he in his transformation called God. It was what made his story and his message the example of the divine relationship. In our time, with the collapse of belief in the traditional image of God (supernatural, interventionalist),
we have to find and be captivated by the sacred in a new place, in a new way. And the most convincing place of all will be our own human hearts. Not merely in some personal experience, decision or recruitment intervention  because as David Tacey puts it, that is “locked away in the closet of introspection” but perhaps rather the discovery of God in our interiority – heart and mind  
will be the basis for a new appreciation of the sacred in and of the world. Captivated in this way, may we as Michael Morewood puts it. May we always be a blessing to ourselves, and to others.

And may we ever give thanks for the wonderful gift of reflective awareness, the ability to humbly admit we know and now know more. So that we might truly recognise and name the presence of
a Creating Spirit beyond all imagining, in our universe.  (Michael Morwood). Amen.

rexae74@gmail.com

Fear of life and living?

Posted: January 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

Fear of life and living?

One of the challenging things about parish ministry is captured in the biblical challenge that a prophet is never welcome in his or her home town. 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’.

One of the pluses about being challenged by one’s home setting is that one own sense of self -importance is checked. The test of one’s faith is what William L Wallace reminds us that “there is no pain greater than not being able to be yourself. That true humility is not the putting down of the self but rather the putting down of roots into the earth, the cultures of the earth and the mystery which we call God. To enter the wilderness is to discover one’s true home. What you are seeking lies within you. No one can give it to you. All you have to do is to own it. The greatest achievement is to learn to be and to rest in that awareness. Abandon yourself to the otherness and you will find yourself in the process. Nurture the mystic within you for she is the guardian of the most sacred mysteries. She alone is the ‘you’ that cannot be destroyed; for her name is compassionate wisdom and her aspect is divinity. When you can see the divine in yourself You will be able to see the divine everywhere. When you reverence the divine in yourself You will be able to reverence the divine everywhere. When you nurture the divine in yourself you will be able to nurture the divine everywhere. Could this be what Luke is wanting us to know?

One reality of parish ministry is that the storyteller’s role is not to preserve historical reality, or facts but rather the role is more complex than that and we meet this in the story today. We might begin to explore this by asking some questions such as ‘What was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told? And what is happening in our own stories – family, church, nation for us to hear and connect with this story? The encouragement of hermeneutics.

We are assured by biblical scholars there is no reason to doubt that Jesus visited Nazareth from time to time during his public ministry (Greg Jenks. FFF, 2007). It also seems clear that Jesus made Capernaum, a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, his “operational base”. (Greg Jenks. 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” (Greg 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…” (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

So, the first thing we can decern at the beginning of this exploration is 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. They are people whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard. local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade at least! 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. And anyway, his views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’. So, who does he think he is! Or more importantly: who the hell does he think we are! Well? Maybe it’s ‘better the domesticated Jesus at their personal disposal than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control! Sounds, very modern. Yet very old.

Kenneth Patton invites us to see this struggle we have when we have something important to share among our own. He says we are to locate our faith in the history of humankind to grasp a man’s his importance. He says: A man once lived who changed his mind about the world. He made a new set of answers about the heavens. He changed the location and the significance of mankind in the scheme of things. His mind was his free world, where he lived unmolested with his new answer’s. He lived in a new world, while all of his fellows lived in the old world still. He was not only wise; he was cagey. He knew that the world of religion and politics was not as free as the world he maintained in his head. He knew that his own mind was a roomier, saner, more charitable world than human society. So he kept his freedom and his answers to himself. His theories were published as he lay dying, when the angry priests and their torturers could not get to him. After all, why should he make himself the victim of other men’s stupidity and cruelty? They raged against him, but he was safe within the fortress of the grave. But while he lived, he maintained his freedom and chance to do his work by living within the fortress of his own mind. Since there was no freedom outside, he kept to his freedom within. His name was Copernicus. We named the universe after him.

Rex Hunt tells of a comment made years ago by one of his colleagues. Pauline Hanson was on the Australian political scene at the time. Quoting a political analyst, he 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’. “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” (Keith Suter, quoted by Roger Wiig 1998).

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?

Again, 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… 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 the new and challenging vision of God’s domain.

This new domain was populated with outsiders, with outcasts, with exiles! It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out! Its radical theology was that 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? Or indeed, in the face of the America exposed by the Trump administration: how are we to be an inclusive, multicultural community? It is true that there are many puzzled and agitated people expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger, on that broader issue even now! So how can our expression of community – church or family – help in this debate?

Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life. Which could be summed up as:
God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop or some sort of interfaith symbolic reality. But I want to ask if this is the right way to go. It sounds as good as it has for many years but what of the outcome? What is proposed is a universalism which comes at a cost.  Then and now it cannot break free of its symbolic state.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book ‘The Home we Build Together,’ writes: “Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on.  It was a fine, even noble idea in its time.  It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home in society, more appreciated and respected, better equipped with self-esteem and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society as a whole.  It affirmed their culture.  It gave dignity to difference… But there has been a price to pay…  Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation” (Sacks 2007:3).

Maybe the Lukan 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” (Bruce Epperly. P&F web site, 2007).

Margaret Lee and Brandon Scott offer a translation of the passage from Corinthians 13: 1, 4-8 that I think talks about a biblical universalism that is closer to this abundant life. If I were fluent in human and heavenly tongues, but lacked love, I’d sound like a hollow gong or a crashing cymbal… love takes its time makes itself good and useful  it doesn’t envy it doesn’t boast it doesn’t bluster  t doesn’t make a scene it doesn’t look after its own interests it doesn’t throw fits it doesn’t dwell  on the negative it takes no pleasure in injustice but is delighted by the truth love upholds everything trusts in everything hopes for everything  endures everything love never falls away

Meister Eckhart said “If a man asked life for a thousand years, “Why do you live?” if it could answer it would only say, “I live because I live.” That is because life lives from its own ground, and gushes forth from its own. Therefor it lives without ‘Why’, because it lives for itself. And if you asked a genuine man who acted from his own ground, “Why do you act?” if he were to answer properly, he would simply say, ‘I act because I act’.

It is possible that this universalism could or should be called, stop talking about it and love the world! Maybe this is Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us. If we can hear it amid all the other seductive calls and demands in our own backyard to just talk about the mess.

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

rexae74@gmail.com

The Genesis of Hope

Posted: January 17, 2022 in Uncategorized

The Genesis of Hope

The genesis of hope lies in the evolution of human relations and not in the achievement of success.

Despite the nearing end of the sixth extinction. Despite the looming polluted planet we call home. Despite the procrastination of monetarism, greed, power obsessed. Despite the uninformed individualized approach to what it means to be human a woman living in the slum area of a large city can still respond when asked by a news reporter what hope she has, living as she must. She can still point to her children and say: “They are my hope,” (Alves (adapted) 2011)

Kahlil Gibran reminds us of our participation in the evolutionary process of the species  when he says: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday

Born in love is an ideal, born to create the world they are born into the child is both responsible to itself and to its parents from the very beginning and the involvement of parent is primarily to ensure its neurological development is supported and not hindered. This is as both the mother and Gibran suggest crucial for the continuation of the human species.

To put this another way is to say that: a child explores the world with true wonder long before he or she understands what the adults mean by ‘holy’. That child does not need to be told in solemn pious tones ‘only God can make a tree’ before discovering the God-given thrill of climbing it, feeling its rough bark against his or 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. This might suggest that the right hemisphere of the child’s brain is awakening before language; maybe even before other senses and that an innate sense of what it means to be human is already present. The imagination is already birthing perhaps. This makes what we do and say as parents is vital for the future of the human race. It also says that the bonding we talk about with child and mother is akin to the bonding between father and child because here is implanted the sense of what love is as opposed to fear, what love is as opposed to what many experience as trauma from the very first breath of life.

To try to put this into a faith journey context we might ask is this perhaps why the peasant sage called Jesus/Yeshu’a was also so affirming of children.

As you read or hear this and in the spirit of this celebration of children, I invite you to come on a journey of re-imagination. The biblical stories of creation and yes there are several, are not literal because they are already imagination driven stories, already shaped by the culture into which they are spoken or read. They are not mythical stories of the creation of the world, but rather mythical stories of the creation of humanity and thus children. I don’t know enough about education but I do think that we do our children a disservice when we impose what we think or believe upon them in ways that ignore, suppress and discredit what they already know about being human. We assume that the cognitive understanding or the left hemisphere is the only important part of being human and we distort their lives. Note I am not saying that many teachers don’t know what they are doing for most do and most are wonderful brilliant educators. What I am saying it that the environment, or the culture or the human systems we have developed can distort the purpose because they are measured within a dominating left hemisphere functioning world.

In a beginning… At the start of every life, an environment must be created favourable to life and not just knowledge or achievement, or success. Otherwise a child’s surroundings would have no form or shape and would be empty and unoccupied. We are adults must be responsible with what we have learned about the frailty of the human species to prepare it for a living child. And God 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. Adults 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.

And God said: ‘Let there be a dome…’A child must have support when born,
not because they don’t know but because they have yet to know the complexity of applying what they know by instinct, 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. They have experienced the sharpness of evolution and this earth, its water and its atmosphere will be the child’s home as long as the child lives. And here is the greatest traumatic event. 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 God 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 all been changed into asphalt and brick, polluted streams and poisoned foods. A total environment must be given every child with nature’s surroundings at their finest and best. Not because it is nice and sensible but because it is crucial for the species. And God said: ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…  Here again within the reality of evolution every child needs to know animals, what their kind is, and put a name on each, as though each were a person. And from this 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. Here we have the most important learning for adults today. It is that we need to relearn so we can teach that the reverence for life makes no distinction between more precious and less precious lives.

And God 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 becomes known as the child develops talents and abilities to apply what they already know. 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.

As adults 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 and the future of God is in our hands.

We have evidence now that the early stages of life are seldom entirely outgrown. Rather, they become the platforms on which further stages of development are built. The challenge is that they seem to need to be supplemented by overlays of new levels of information that will shape the patterns of life. And that we today as adults are involved in work that is more important than we thought. The task for us is to count it a privilege to walk with our children and grandchildren,
our nieces and nephews. Sure we can offer to shape their beliefs but never as absolute truth because we know that our beliefs will also be reshaped by them. As Gibran reminds us “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you…” (Gibran 1926/1969:20)

The wise among us call that wisdom. And let us enable our children to wonder… “out of the mouths of babes”. “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 grandchildren to live as humans.

Rex Hunt tells of a poem he found in 2005. It is called: “A Short But True Story of You”. And I have adapted it slightly to make it a daily prayer to a child.

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. 

Let you and I 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

“When the Beer Runs Out”

Posted: January 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

“When the Beer Runs Out” or the Wedding as an Expression of Community Love”

The Epiphany season of the church year, as we shared last week, traditionally celebrates the ‘showing forth’ of Jesus. In our everyday contemporary language we could say we have come to the time to return to work, Covid willing that is? We could also say that the time of partying is almost done and we could say that Epiphany is about ‘going on a journey, searching’. During Epiphany we often hear a collection of stories: of the Magi or Eastern Intellectuals arriving to broaden one’s horizons. It is already the time of the baptism of Jesus, the marriage feast of Cana, and the so-called calling of the first disciples. The Cana story is surely one of the most charming in all the Bible. And let’s remember that John is the only one to tell this story. The wedding itself would have been a great social occasion. A celebration probably for the whole community. We don’t know how many days the party had been celebrating when the wine ran out. Weddings were traditionally occasions for festivities lasting a week or more. Relatives sometimes traveled great distances, and friends and neighbours poured in. It was a communal event in the life of the community. All the usual one-up-man ships etc etc. And the groom’s father usually paid the bill!

So how did the story survive in the tradition till the time of John’s gospel? Why did not one of the other evangelists pick it up? How indeed does it fit in John’s gospel? Well! There are no easy answers to any of these questions, though perhaps all one has to say is that it is a great story, so why not use it. The question is just what meaning can we give to it?

A lot of theological ink and perspiration has been spilled on that subject. Perhaps the most obvious but not always offered meaning we can give it, is: Jesus by his attendance at the feast endorsed feasting and singing and dancing and human sexual love. And just in case I am opening some doors here let’s remember that the puritans, prudes, and party-poopers will try to tell us otherwise, Their Jesus was a no- human saint after all it seems. Andrew Greely would say they; “have never been to a Jewish wedding.” For others, such a meaning is just too human. They claim we should take this story as written testimony to Jesus’ powers over the laws of nature. He has somehow miraculously violated the laws of fermentation and instantaneously turned plain old tap water into wine of the best available vintage. And on the surface maybe this would be enough for this story. But! And here’s the rub. John never calls any of the signs Jesus performs ‘miracles’. This is in spite of what some English translations of the Bible would have us believe!

To John, these are ‘signs’ not nor natural events, and signs are objects or gestures with one meaning that suggests another. They are signals of the coming metaphor. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana we meet Jesus celebrating… Yes, celebrating the joyous human event of marriage with a young couple, their family and friends and neighbours. So, it is with us.
We will continue to meet Jesus in every ordinary event in our lives. Good and bad. Joy filled or grief stricken. And when true love travels on a gravel road it is an all-inclusive loving, no one is excluded and love is a real human event of living. Yes, it is the celebration of sexuality and it is withing the context of being fully human, Beer runs out! Rex Hunt shared a moment when reading a colleague‘s comment on this passage. His interest was sparked when at the conclusion to the story of the Prodigal Father, his colleague commented on the wedding feast at Cana and he was surprised and intrigued!  Remember… in the story of the Prodigal Father, the father pleads with the older son to join in the celebration, and the son replies: ‘Listen!  For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so I might celebrate with my friends’ (Luke 15:29).  This colleague then suggests: “We can safely assume the son is not lying.  If our Christian life has the character of ‘working like a slave’, ‘never disobeying’, never being able to celebrate with our friends, what have we made Christianity into?  Not only do those outside miss out on the celebrations, we too have lost what is the essence of our faith”.

This is a very big challenge to some fundamentals of our faith. Relying on belief systems, or belief itself. Accepting that fear is a valid driver of a loving world, identifying the Jesus Way as an exclusive way and indoctrinating our faith is in question is it not? We are told by John that this was Jesus’ first sign… A sign of how and what God through Jesus is ever trying to show us. That grace-type events are everywhere. Divine spirituality is even in common or unlikely places. Love and grace are meant to overflow freely for everyone. Not just is some rarified New Age sacredness or fundamentalist religion. Not just is some ‘totally’ other. But also lurking in the midst of the grace-full events of secular human life that ordinary people enjoy. James Taylor and Ian Harris might argue that the events of secular life are in face the divine events. That a spirituality of the secular might be better understood as what Incarnation is all about. Incarnation’ is when grace overflows freely for everyone, and it is said people come running…

To tell another Rex Hunt story. “It was about 2.30 in the morning. A young minister – first year out of college – called Tony, was still struggling with his sermon… He just couldn’t get his thoughts together. “I’ve just got to have a break”, he said. So, he went for a walk to a local roadhouse to get a cup of coffee. As he sat finishing his coffee at the counter, three blokes – three homeless blokes – came in. One of them in a kind of half-drunk voice said to the others: “Tomorrow’s my birthday”. One of his mates responded sarcastically: “So what?” And they had a cup of coffee and left. Tony found out from the roadhouse owner, Harry, that these blokes came to the roadhouse every night at the same time, and the chap celebrating a birthday was named Rob. Tony asked Harry if he would help set up a birthday party for Rob. Harry agreed. Early the following morning, the roadhouse was filled with party decorations. Even a birthday cake. Several other people had heard about the party and had come in off the street.

When Rob and his mates came in, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to him. And when the candles on the cake were lit, he was speechless. When it came time to cut the cake, Rob asked to take the cake with him to admire. No one had ever given him a cake before in his life. After the party was over, there was an interesting conversation. Harry leaned on his elbow on the counter  and looked across at Tony and said: “I bet you belong to some church”. Tony replied: “I belong to the church that celebrates birthday parties for bums at 2.30 in the morning”. Harry looked at him and said: “If I could find such a church, I’d join it in the morning.” When the beer runs out!!

Amen.

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