Sunday, 16 September 2018

Wisdom in applying faith

There is something to be said about not mixing politics and religion but there is also something to understand about this statement. In suggesting that we must not mix politics and religion it says nothing about mixing politics and faith. These two are integrally entwined and cannot be divided as the one informs the other and without it there is little wisdom in politics. Most recently this debate in my mind has been sparked by our readings and by an article referring to Archbishop Justin's speech regarding economic policy. If we are to act in the community to bring God's presence closer to those around us we need to be aware of our own faith and how it interacts with our politics.

Our faith should by its very presence in our lives guide our decisions. Politics is about making decisions that affect the community. If we are to utilise our faith in works that enable God's presence then we must operate at the political level. However, there are an infinite variety of ways that this can take place and the choice of our intervention must conform with the faith that we hold. We can see this taking shape in the discourse outside Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8.27-38). Peter jumps in immediately following his announcement and belief in Christ. His faith is right but his actions that follow are wrong as they are politically motivated but do not conform with the faith he has just announced. It was his own agenda that was being followed or his political agenda and not his faith. The two must marry up in a complete conjugal joining. Our centre is God's call to us to participate in the Eucharist and to take this out into the world in the form of action. Eucharistic action that is filled with the wisdom of God and brings justice, peace and God's presence into the lives of the other.

This should not be a crossroad. We should merge into a single road.

We are often too quick to respond by using our own thinking rather than responding in Christ to which we have been baptised. Faith without works is too inward and leaves the practical wisdom of God behind closed doors. However good works that are without faith  have no life and do not bring light into the world. They may temporarily ease the pains of those we minister to but do not ease the soul which is slowly dying behind the false gratitude that is displayed. How can it  be anything less? To bring faith into our works we must spend the time to discern and walk with the other, it cannot be a quick fix either of faith or of good works. The quick fix of faith leads to a shallow religiosity often found in mega churches were there is little time for the individual or else we spend our time in retreat from the world pretending that what we are doing is spiritually rewarding but leaves us dry and unrewarded so that we move onto the next incarnation. The quick fix of works leaves us flitting from one good agency to another trying to help everyone by spending our money.

God's wisdom should pervade everything that we participate in. If we lock God out and rely on ourselves we become cold and heartless. Only when we are able to encompass the wisdom of God that is freely offered into our hearts we can then become true people of God integrating our politics and our lives into one. By divorcing the one from the other we make the misery of the world rather than bringing the light into the world. At the end of the day the question that we must ask ourselves when we throw ourselves into our good causes and our never ending cycle of programmes and  works is: does our decision conform to the faith that we believe in or does it arise out of what we perceive to be the right thing for ourselves? Are we making a name for ourselves or are we actually following what God would have us do?

Sunday, 9 September 2018

The exclusive inclusive club

How often has the church been labeled as being exclusive and not welcoming of the other within its doors? I was listening to the interview with Fr Rod Bower with Sarah Kanowski on Friday which started of by him explaining why he started the Billboard sayings outside the Church in Gosford. An account of the perception of exclusion, which was turned into an account of inclusion. His illustration (Go to the interview for more) is a Godly reminder to us that the Church while being perceived as being exclusive (which it is) is actually extremely inclusive. How does this work? and how do we undo the work of ages to break down the barriers so that we who are within can see that our exclusiveness is not a barrier and should never be a barrier to inclusiveness.

This seems to be getting very complicated but is in actual fact very straightforward. The reading from James tells of a congregation that privileges those that they see as being themselves (James 2.1-3). This is what we do regularly in many Christian congregations we place a barrier up to say you are not welcome. Indeed the first barrier that we put up is that of baptism. Then we note those who are acceptable to our criteria, you have to speak in tongues, you cannot be LGBTQ, you can not be divorced, you have to accept..., you have to deny...and so our rules multiply much as the pharisees made rules. In doing so we make our selves an exclusive club as you cannot be part of us unless you fulfill the criteria. Our rules are required otherwise there would be no order. It would be a farce as we actually would not know who belonged and who did not. Yes, sometimes rules are required but the rules are there to guide us not constrain us when they are given to us by Christ and God.

Who are we kidding when we say we are inclusive?

The two commandments are simple love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. In trying to do the latter we create our comfort rules. God requires us to be inclusive because how can we love our neighbour as our selves unless we are inclusive. That means that our petty rules need to be abandoned for God's ever present love. We like, Rod Bower found himself reflecting, need to reflect on our own inbuilt barriers to inclusiveness. These can range from not accepting someone because of who they are to something simple like telling someone not to sign a card because they haven't contributed. God accepts all people including, and probably more than anyone, those who are outside of the system. We just have to look at Mark (7.24-30) to know that it is irrespective of who someone is as to whether they are loved by God or Christ. Is it right to set our barriers to the norms that we require? No, its not. Yet sometimes our institutional community requires it of us. In these cases we exclude but we need to work around the corners to show that God includes them all.

No matter how we look at it some denominations are more exclusive than others. Simply because they adhere to a stricter form of human laws. If we are to truly to follow Christ we will be the includers in a regime that is fully inclusive of the whole of humanity. That is who we should be but we often see the wood rather than the trees. We keep to the rigid patterns of inclusion and exclusion thinking and perceiving that we are correct but not realising the fact the God has changed all the rules on us. Baptism is asked of us not as a requirement but as a choice. Membership is asked of us not as a requirement but as a choice. We do not exclude as a result as we are more than willing to accept all people, it is only a perception of yours that we exclude. In that perception we create the division that is the barrier to inclusion.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

A persistent darkness

The flaws of our political system were highlighted to such an extent last week that I think the world was left wondering what on earth are the Aussies up to. Yet, if we think about it this is an age old issue which we as Christians have not been able to overcome.The Church is not immune to this but rather is more than likely to harbour it within their gatherings like no other. Christ is very clear on this in Mark (7.14-23) but it is something that the average Christian has not taken to heart. I can see the shock and horror on each face as Mark is read but at the end of the day there is truth in this statement. Power, authority, and the need to express my own agenda and not the agenda of God is the motivating factor. If we do not understand this as a political manoeuvre than we do not understand ourselves and understanding ourselves is of paramount importance if we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.

The first thing that we do if we do not get our way or if we think that our understanding is not being considered or if we are feeling sidelined is to look for dirt. If we want to undermine, destroy or otherwise remove objectors from our path, note it is our path, we use innuendo, smear and outright lies to bring the other down. We only have to look at the political aftermath in our own country to see that this is the case let alone any other country. Unfortunately, we also do this as part of our innate freedom, the freedom of speech, but only when it suits our purpose. No matter who we are we are responsible for the words that we speak and we are responsible for the consequences of what we speak. The letter of James gives us the direction that we need  (James 1.26) as do the words of Christ in Mark (7.14-23), We are given words of life and truth in the faith of Christ. In living as Christ and speaking as Christ with truth in our hearts we then reveal God's love to the world.

Are you prepared to speak love or will you continue to sprout hatred?

Yet, we forgo the understanding of love the moment we open our lips with words that are created to harm. We leave Christ on the corner as we turn away to deliver words of spite and hatred. In listening to others we are also apt to pick up on their hatred and perpetuate the spite in the community that surrounds us, especially if it fulfills our own agendas. We try to find power by undermining others and if we obtain access to privileged information we must be very careful that we actually know from whence that information comes, If we are gullible enough to believe in our hearts everything that is told to us then we are likely to fall from Christ. In repeating what others have said to us we repeat the un-truths that come from their mouths without first ascertaining the truths for ourselves. In this way we undermine others and gain power for ourselves. This means that we are not looking at the consequences of our actions but rather at the gain for our own egos / power bases / political agendas. In turn we perpetuate the darkness in the hearts of others without seeking the truth in the love of Christ. Only when we have truly understood how we utilise our own words to bring disharmony and disruption in the lives of others can we begin to preach the love which is in Christ.

Our hearts and our wishes are the well spring from which our actions and words spring, No wonder that Christ tells us that it is not the food that we eat that defiles but the words from our hearts. The only worthy thing that should be in our hearts is the love of God and of neighbour. Unfortunately, looking at the world around us we can only see the idolatory of our hearts in the blackness of our words as we perpetuate darkness rather than light. Remind our minds that our tongues destroy more people than our wars.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Truth and lies

An increasingly depressive thing in current Australia is that very few are able to tell a truth. We only need to look to our leadership in parliament over the last week to determine the veracity of this statement. Even if current leadership of the Australian people claim a link to the Christian faith the basic principles of that faith have clearly not made it past the facade of attending a service. I have no insider knowledge of parliamentary shenanigans as anyone else but we have undoubtedly heard the saying that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In the midst of such turmoil within the political system what is or should our response be as Christians and how does that effect our own mission? Christ states the truth of his presence in John's gospel (Jn. 6.56 ff) and it is the first thing that is proclaimed as the armour of God (Eph. 6.15) but as can be seen in John's gospel and in our own lives truth is a perception created from our own viewpoint. Indeed, Pilate is famous for asking "What is truth?" in the Johanine version of Jesus' trial.

If, truth is as labile as it appears to be, how do we as Christian's respond when it comes to our own lives and the way we interact with our fellow citizens and companions. If we all have our own versions of what truth is how can we even begin to behave as Christ and bring the light of God to the citizens of the world? Perhaps our advantage is that we are able to form a community or rather take companionship along the margins of our society. Make no mistake, we as Christians are on the margins and not in the public square. Those that are in the public square are unable to voice the truth. If we are to form community and companionship on the margins then we must realise that it is only through fellowship that truth arises. This then is the truth of the Christian message, a truth that we can proclaim to all. The gospel is a Gospel (truth) of accepting the other and changing with the other to form the companionship and peace that is borne out of Christ's presence.

A change in our perspective allows us to meet the other in the limnal space

Stephen Pickard suggests that we are a verandah people worshipping a verandah God. For us to be Christians in the truest sense we need to be people of hospitality and the other. It is in the acceptance of the other that we become truth bearers and truth formers. The limnal space of the verandah between the outside and the inside is where we meet and commune. Each space that acts as a meeting place becomes a place of acceptance of the other; a place for the Christian fellowship to meet and become. In accepting the other we accept the bread of life and blood of salvation given to us in the life of Christ, who was forever accepting the stranger on the fringes. It is when our spaces become the verandahs of social interaction and the companionship of Christ's presence that we become truth purveyors. We begin companionship with acceptance of the other which means that our version of truth becomes changed to include the other's version of truth. In doing this we come closer to THE truth that is God's presence in our lives.

Only when we have encompassed the other will we come to the truth of Christ's presence and not be bound by our individual truths. Only when we partake in companionship, fellowship and community do we partake of the bread of life and the cup of salvation. This is what is rejected by the scribes, the pharisees and Christ's disciples the ability to accept the other and the truth of each persons life. We do this only because of our discomfort in the alternate of Christ's discomforting words and the rejection of the others perspective in our search for truth.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Challenging politics

We are undoubtedly political animals when we get down to the nitty gritty. Everything that we think and do revolves around our own petty political selves. We just have to look at the political analysis of this week to see that the only model that we have for good political behaviour is how to get away with slanging and sledging or knock over the tall poppies. Irrespective of our political, religious, sexual bent we only follow what is presented to us as being meaningful political behaviour - "Get the B**** before they get me". This does not leave much for us to ponder or wonder greatly how the world managed to wind up in the mess that it is in currently. It seems fairly straightforward when you look at it. Of course that is at the National and International level... well it is not much different when we consider ourselves and our families and our groups because where do we think the ideas came from in the first place?

Once we understand that the world we live in is the world we have created we may be able to do something about it. If we look at the first verse of the reading from Ephesians (Eph 4.25) that is allocated for today we can see the start of our actual Christian lives. There is no lily livered lies here it is a simple truth that we keep on forgetting as we play politics with the lives of those around us in our communities. The Gospel is about truth. Christ is about truth. Our lives are about politics which amounts to falsehood. There is absolutely no need for us to play the game of politics unless we are on our own power trip and are looking for our own little kingdom to rule with an iron fist. In telling it like it is we are often condemned and shunned. The political propaganda machine goes into overdrive to convince everyone around us that we are making it all up. Of course what do we do? We lap it all up and convict the person telling the truth. All we have to do is look at how we approach climate change, border control and our own internal prejudices. What does it take for us to truly accept Christ in our lives because the moment we start being political we deny Christ.

Only when we look into the other's eye can we see love

I heard somebody say the other day that whoever voted for a certain political leader to the left of centre was a fool. However, like Christ I would say that whoever votes for a political party is an idiot because you are not voting for the truth. We have been reminded over the past three weekends that Christ is the bread of life and it is only through Christ that we come to see God. John 6.41-51 is no different, we need Christ's presence in our lives so that we can speak the truth. It is only when we truly love as Christ loved that we can form community in a manner that respects each person. Only when we entertain the notion of truth speaking in our lives, the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the power of love, the truth of God's presence will we begin and I repeat, begin the life that Christ proclaims. How can we approach a person with a disease as if they are a number or a bed? How can we see each other if we only see a street number, telephone number or snap chat address? I have heard it "Go and see the old girl that lives at number 3". Who? Do you follow a snapchat address or do you interact with a person? To do the latter we have to speak the truth to do the former we can hide behind our persona created for the internet.

God calls us to love and to tell each other the truth that is in our lives. We cannot do that solely by referencing a phone or a computer or other device. If anyone has seen 'Ready Player One' knows this as bonds are formed when we look into the eyes of the person not the eyes of fantasy.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The changing taste of food

During our childhood we have a number of distinctive likes and dislikes when it comes to our choice of food. Some of these carry through into our adult years. I am still somewhat leery of aubergines / eggplant or whatever name you know it by. Imagine if you will trying to eat boiled aubergine, the best description is perhaps (pardon the graphic) "swallowing glutinous snot". This I imagine would put most people off the vegetable for life. We are also aware or should be that taste changes as we mature and even as a result of hormonal change within the body. I know this because I have had to manage the consequences on a monthly basis. Our taste and our ability to digest a meal is often determined by our experience, our age, our hormonal status, etc. If this is the case then what does the bread of life taste like to you?

In scripture we are given to understand that the bread of life is the word of God and the presence of Christ within our midst. The author of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul or a disciple, is clear what the taste of life is when played out in the world (Eph. 4.2-3). Yet, it is also clear that the author is of the opinion that the recipients of this letter are no longer children and have grown into adulthood within the faith journey (Eph. 4.14). However, as we have seen our taste and our ability to consume, digest and even utilise food is determined by our physical and hormonal and emotional disposition. No matter how hard I try I am always somewhat averse to eating aubergine because of my early interaction with this food. I suspect that we are also coloured in our preferred digestion of the food of life by those who have come before us. Occasionally we have to revisit our understandings in order to ensure that what we have been fed is the true food and is lining us up to function as a whole as a community. How are we to know what is good to eat?

Do we really know what the bread of life tastes like or have we seasoned it too much?

Usually we are taught by our parents and by those who are older than us. No matter what culture we come from the food that we eat is prevalent in that culture and we soon know what is good and what is not. Our tastes change as we know but we often come back to what our families and parents gave to us. In our faith journey we are only as good as the food that we have been given in the past and the actions of those around us. If we have seen true love and neighbourliness being given then we are likely to mirror this in our own lives. But what happens if the food for our faith journey has shown us a different aspect one that does not increase love but rather one that ensures bitterness and division as normality within the Church family.  Our immediate reaction is to say no way not possible. Then if that is the case why have we not got those who are younger present worshipping God in places of worship? Is it perhaps that they have seen fallacy in action rather than love, have they heard words that have enticed without actions to form reality?

If we are conformed to Christ we will taste those things which are good, we will be drawn to those things that sustain. To often the food that we have had in the past colours our palates and if that food has been rich and misleading in flavour we may not recognise the simplicity of God's message. We may find that the food that has been disguised by the flavours of the server are not the simple flavours that come with God's love. Is it any wonder that we do not go for food when we have previously been poisoned? How do we recover from food poisoning? We go back to the simple foods of the nurturing family that we came from and begin again. We take each step slowly. Expanding our tastes so that we retain the simple flavours of Christ's loving presence as we engage with others around us.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Answering Christ's call

Confirmation is a time of rejoicing as young people accept the call of Christ for themselves. Yet, we are often blase about this liturgical event. We tend to see it as a "Church leaving certificate" because so often this is when regular attendees at the parish no longer see the youth. They disappear from the worshipping lives of the "regulars" and so are assumed to have left the "Church". Is this true, is this reality or is it the story that is told to make excuses for the fact that we are no longer relevant to the generation that comes for confirmation? If it is the former than we are in a very bleak place and only have ourselves to blame for not inculcating Christ into the lives of the youth. If it is the latter than we are even more to blame, for we have not turned our lives to Christ and lived those lives in the presence of our children and those who come for confirmation.

Young people today are very quick to pick up on the incredibly hypocritical way in which we portray the Christian life. We have perhaps become much like David (1 Sam. 11.1-15). Our thoughts and minds are permanently placed on the pleasures of our hearts rather than on the life that God gives us in Christ. It is no wonder that we do not have young people as part of our faith journey when we ourselves cannot and fail to live to the heart of the Christian message in our parishes, dioceses and denominations. We only have to look at the last few years to see this truth with the Royal Commission and the stories that are told of faith groups and their leaders / followers. If they or any other who feels themselves outside the community are not allowed their voice then they will not be found within the established community. Rather they will become lost pilgrims looking for reliable guides in the wild places but finding only ephemeral links to solace. Only when we begin to find Christ in our lives and move to the fringes will we find those that have received their leaving certificates. The deep roots of Christ-likeness need to settle into our hearts so that we can truly mirror Christ to those who come to us and those we go out to (Eph 3.17).

Hear the fringe voices not the voices of the brainwashed (from Fake Tattoos) 

In baptism we are called to ministry in the community, we are called to bring the light of Christ into the hearts and minds of those around us. In doing so we are called to live as Christ and in so doing we preach the word of God. Unfortunately, some believe we are asked to preach the word and everything will be alright. This is not God speaking this is human brainwashing to sustain power and authority. If we are unable to learn from and hear God speak in the tongues of the youth who are confirmed and then leave the organised Church then we are truly unable to hear God's word. If we are unable to listen to dissenting voices on the fringes of our societies that are embedded in the hearts of those who are confirmed and leave then we are doing God and our faith an injustice. If we want to hear the true voice of the young we need to listen to those who feel themselves marginalised by the church and not those who are brainwashed by organised religion.

Christ found himself among the poorest and reached out with an open heart to succour them (Jn 6.1-13). He did not turn his heart away from them he listened and fed them. Too often we organise ourselves in accordance with what we like as "adults" in faith. We are loath to hear discontent and angst. We want to hear what is good not what is wrong. Unlike Christ we are not prepared to hear the voices from the fringes of society that live in our own families and our own homes. We sometimes look to far to bring Christ home. Christ is in our midst in the tortured voices of our missing youth and we often act as yr 8 classroom children in response.