Sunday, 18 March 2018

God changes his pedagogy

In looking at the covenant that God makes with the Israelites we can see that it is one that is dependant on a command situation.  In this case we are looking at God laying down commandments that need to be obeyed. In a somewhat similar view to a government laying down the law.  The instruction comes from above and if there is any disobedience then you are punished for such disobedience.  The command structure, like the armed forces, must be obeyed. It is open to interpretation and human intervention. This changes with Jeremiah (31.31-34) as God now suggests that  his commandments will no longer be imposed from without but will reside within. This means that the struggle to be more like God is not a question of following the rules but rather one of interpreting them for ourselves and living into them. The legal beagles no longer have to interpret the jargon of God but we ourselves have to live as if God was with us.  The gap between interpreter and the intepreted no longer exists as we become the responsible party.

This view is emphasised as Christ becomes the incarnated one and the word becomes flesh. In John's Gospel, a voice his heard from heaven, as a sign to those present (Jn 12.28-30) misheard as thunder or mistaken for angelic voices.  It is as if the people were not used to hearing directly from God as in the days of Moses.  Direct intervention into our lives is something of the past but with God's pedagogic change from direct instruction to a more subliminal instruction of the heart this is to be expected.  This change from an authority figure that directs instruction to one that coaxes our hearts towards obedience is not one that we have totally accepted within our faith lives. We are often still reliant on the authority figure to pass on their perceptions rather than allow the gentle instruction of God's presence to take root in our hearts and soften them into love of those around us.  Even our education systems struggle with these concepts and on how best to have students learn so that they can move forward into their lives expanding their own knowledge and abilities whilst encouraging others.

Do we follow our hearts to God or do we have to be ordered?

The change that God encompasses is from an almost authoritarian stance to one that encourages our own encompassing of love within our own hearts. A move from a junior school scenario where what the teacher says is true to a more adult understanding of exploration of our own hearts to find God's ultimate presence expressed in our love for others.  This move is likened by the writer of the Hebrew's letter explaining that babies are fed milk while more substantial food is reserved for adults (Heb.5.13-14).  In our own ways we occasionally need the direction as a child needs boundaries set but it must eventually give way to our own growth and exploration.  Should we transgress the boundaries in adulthood then we must suffer the consequences of our transgression.  Such consequences are found in our falling away from community and the love of a community around us that supports us through our lives.

By building on the love of God and the acceptance of the other into our lives we begin to re-orientate ourselves in terms of our communal responsibilities and the presence of God in our lives.  This may mean that we step back towards childhood and require re-direction and the sustenance of milk and authority figures, but God is forever changing and guiding us in our own need to change.  It is when we become stuck in the ruts of our own imaginations that we begin to fall away from relationship and God's presence.  Let us perceive ourselves more as adults that enjoy God's lure into a changing future that evolves with our growing community and love.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Retain our idols or change our view

This Sunday marks the traditional Mothering Sunday which is perhaps fortunate as it follows International Women's Day (IWD).  This traditional celebration of the Church is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent.  It was originally the day servants were allowed to go back to their family homes and parishes.  It is another day to celebrate those things that are remarkable about women in our society but also to remind ourselves of the idols that we create rather than celebrating God's goodness and presence in all our lives.  In order to save the Israelites from the bite of the serpent a bronze snake was crafted, a symbol of healing and forgiveness for those that had been bitten (Num. 21.6-9).  This was not to be seen as an idol to be worshipped but rather as a symbol of healing.  In Christ crucified this process is repeated and becomes a symbol of our healing and not an idol for worship (John 3.14-15).

In making symbols in the world today we are often making idols for us to worship and often we do this with our use of tradition.  We establish a tradition to initiate and celebrate change in the world, IWD, but when we continue with the symbolism it becomes idolatrous when no change is forthcoming.  It becomes a celebration for the celebrations sake with little meaning in the lives of people. In the Numbers passage the symbol achieved almost instant change and was not needed to be retained.  If we are to celebrate change and initiate that with a symbol then we need to ensure that the symbol is effective else it reverts to a passing idolisation of an ideal.  In looking at our own faith tradition we have passed through a variety of traditions around our use of the cross and the crucifix.  In contemplating the cross and Christ's lifting up are we seeing it as an idol or are we seeing it as a symbol of our redemption?

Beautiful idolatry choking us or worshipful symbol releasing us?

In looking around at the use of the cross in our modern lives it is seen more as an item of jewellery rather than as an item of religious symbolism.  In asking someone the reason for wearing a cross or a crucifix I wonder what the response will be, even from priests, bishops and religious?  Will it be because it is tradition or maybe its beauty or perhaps a symbol (but of what and for whom?).  We so often follow the "ways of this present world" (Eph. 2.2) rather than seeing the pointer towards God.  In sporting a cross / crucifix are we seeing it as an idolisation of Christ rather than acknowledging God's presence?  Too often we resort to the words of idolisation rather than the words of worship and acknowledgement of God when we celebrate our Christianity.  In doing so we often depart from what Christ and God asks of us and so become one of many who pay lip service to God rather than living the fullness of Christian life; a life based in the worship of God and the presence of Christ.

Our change should come when we understand the idols that we have made in our lives and begin to see symbols of Christ's outreach in to the world that changes the perspective of our lives.  Living in today's world is a vast change from 1909 when IWD was first discussed or thought about but the fact that it has become entrenched in an almost idolatrous manner suggests that we are not changing our lives into the life of Christ.  Even within our own religiosity there are many who cling to an idolatrous vision of man rather than a celebration of God in the whole of creation.  We are still ruled by our "physical desires" (Eph. 2.3) rather than channeling our desires to God.  We fear to change and so create the world that we desire rather than the world that God desires, resisting and living in the past in preference to the new life that God offers.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The violence of change

We have seen in recent years that repression and stagnation lead to change that can turn and often is violent.  Just looking back at the Arab spring we can recognise the inherent violence in change.  Indeed when change is resisted the violence persists in the daily lives of those that are involved.  Syria is a prime example on the world stage but such violence can take root within communities and institutions without the obvious violence of Syria.  Just looking at Christ's reaction to the desecration of the temple precinct (Jn. 2.13-22) and the need to change back to the originality of God's requirements is sufficient to give us an idea of the violence that such change can bring.  The criteria for a living relationship with the other is laid down succinctly within the scriptures ( Ex. 20.1-17) but as we know they can be interpreted to allow our own living conditions.

It is not as if we do not agree with the outline of the commandments but rather that we want our own way rather than live, what we perceive to be a restrictive life, that leaves us victimised when others do not agree with our standards.  Christ in upsetting the temple precinct signals to those around him a need to re-turn to the specifics and not to the human inspired interpretation.  This metanoia is preceded by violence to those involved as much as to ourselves.  It reminds us that we are prone to the same violence in order to retain that which we believe is right.  In resisting our own need to change we operate with subversive violence rather than in the righteous violence of righting a wrong.  It is not that the violence is the correct way to go but rather that sometimes we need the violence to up root the wrong values that have been embedded in our own hearts.  Trauma such as this is akin to the surgeon cutting out the melanoma.  Resistant violence is more akin to the Syrian situation and can be likened to us beating up the surgeon as they attempt to excise the melanoma.

Do we use the violence of healing or the violence of condemnation?

This loss of something from ourselves is resisted even when it means turning back to the things that we are called to in community that we have neglected. It is that resistance in our understanding of ourselves that leads to violence as a protective mechanism.  This is why it so hard to love those who are doing violence to the community because it means that we have to loose something of ourselves when we deny them the privilege of forgiveness.  Instead of remitting to God we seek our own recompense and enter into the cycle of violence, so destroying the peace that God brings.  We should be seeking the grace that comes from God and allows us to fulfill the commandments that God has given to us.  In doing so we seek the good of the community and excise (violence) those things that are not of the community that God cares for.

Like St David before us we do the little things that are forgotten so that we do not become tied down in debates as to the goodness of our world.  In doing this we fulfill God's will for community as we care for each other.  The things that need to be excised are those thoughts that remove us from the daily life into the grandeur of our wants rather than the needs of the community.  By participating in the violence of excision and repentance we negate the violence of power and resistance.  By cutting something away we allow for the new growth to come through rather than removing the community through our power seeking.  Destruction of what is inherently good, a community of love, because we require control of our lives leads to the selfish world of isolation.  Excision of what contributes to our lack of empathy and understanding leads to revitalisation and the community in new life.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A covenant and a cross

Abram's covenant with God leads to a change in name (Gen 17.5).  This is an extreme change in life as most of us do not change our names.  Changing our names re-purposes our lives so that it becomes another life all together.  Just like Abram's change of name leads to a change in his own life and that of his wife.  Is it possible that we do not wish to change our names because we fear the reality that this may mean to our circumstances?  Those that do change their names, that we hear of, often do so because they want to escape something that has occurred in the past, a mistake, a crime, or even for the purposes of gain through fraud.  Abram's change is for his gain but not in the manner of selfish gain found in crime and fraud but rather unselfish gain found in drawing closer to God.

What must Abram do?  He must face the fear of change the fear that comes with any momentous event that changes our life, in this case the change of a name.  Christ challenges us each day with the same challenge to draw closer to God by taking up the cross (Mk 8.34).  The cross is as much a challenge to us as a change in our name that changes our purpose in life.  If we are serious in our commitment to God and our commitment to the cross that Christ invites us to bear then we must expect our life purpose to change. Just as Abram changed so we to change as we accept the call of Christ on our lives.  Yet, this is the greatest of our crosses and the one that we shoulder with little if any enthusiasm.  Perhaps if anything this is the cross that is most neglected and yet is the one that gives us the most hope and comfort in our lives.

Who do we see in the mirror? The one that God calls or....

The paradox of change is once again confronted in this moment.  We do not want to take up the cross because of the weight and the challenge that is set before us.  Yet it is the one thing that we are asked to do as it leads us into love of God and neighbour.  We are only truly concerned with ourselves and not with the call of God.  We often believe that it is just a simple habitus that we have entered into that controls our faith journey.  Come to worship, do what the priest asks, succour others and encourage the youth.  This is not so, if we allow God into our lives they are permanently changed just like Abram and this is something that we ourselves do not want.  Change on this level is so damaging for us that we allow only the habit to remain.  Abram stepped forward not knowing what or where he was going.  He had no idea as to what the future held.  He took an enormous step of faith into the unknown only knowing God.  We are called into that same space when we are confronted by the cross that is laid before us.  We often over think what is before us and thereby increase the size of the cross that we think God is asking us to pick up and bear.

Our faith only grows when we answer the call that God has placed upon ourselves.  Sometimes it is as if everything is collapsing around us whilst at other times it is as if the world is against us.  Yet is ourselves that create the weight of the cross that God asks us to pick up.  It is our faith that allows us to feel the easy burden that God has given to us.  We lose everything when we place the world before us but gain everything when we place God before us.  God grants us life despite the weight that we place upon our own shoulders.  Only when we accept in truth and love that God will only give us the lightest of burdens to carry. We have his love and faith in our own worth to sustain us into the future.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Desert or just desserts

The desert experience that is portrayed in Mark"s gospel has few details (Mk 1.12-13) but is found expanded with various extra scenarios in the other two synoptic gospels.  The first really big change that came upon the Church was the movement out into the desert at the beginning of the period in the Church's history that started the monastic movement.  Those that ventured into the desert ventured their to come closer to God as they could divest themselves of the concerns of everyday life that was distracting them.  These initial hermits spent their time contemplating God and attempting to come close to God through their meditations and prayer.  These individuals eventually began to come together and form communities even while separated from the strains of normal life.

In our retreat from everydayness we find ourselves more and more becoming part of God's plan.  Yet retreating cannot be the way forward as we are asked to become part of the world.  Christ retreats into the wilderness to renew and clarify his connection with God, not to leave humanity behind.  In a way this is again what the monastic movement did, it allowed retreat but also engagement in its various forms.  This established change within the lives of those that they interacted with so that the monasteries and the monastics became leaders as it were in changes within society.  It is from the movement into the emptiness of the desert that we find new life in God.  The aboriginal or indigenous person knows that this retreat from the world is necessary for life to continue.  The concept of leaving to find new life is prevalent in many countries through out the world.  If it possible for a community to do the same in its journey together?

What are the hopes that have bloomed in your desert?

Whilst we would like to think that any community we belong to will last forever, it is a truth that many communities come together and split apart through time.  Even on a large scale this process of re-forming takes place as we can see from things like Brexit and the changing profile of the Australian landscape.  If we were to look at these events and the world like this we will see the ebb and flow of change.  In some cases the community / society will go into the "desert" and be reformed at a later date to reaffirm its place within the greater whole.  We can even apply this to the Church on a very Catholic scale as we see the ebb and flow of denominations and there effect on society around them.  The deserted place though is not a place of terror or fear.  There is life to be found in the arid places as any biologist will tell you.  Even in our faith journey the desert place is not a place of fear but a place of change.

In recognising that the desert place is one for us to claim as we find our place in our own faith journey we find ourselves renewed and re-invigorated.  Once we grasp the idea of bringing God closer to us through our desert experience we are able to move back into the community to bring that new life into the lives of those around us.  The problem is or rather the challenge is for us to recognise that the desert experience encompasses our fears.  This is were we face them.  The fear of losing our companions, the fear of losing our established connections, the fear of losing our community.  If we realise that God's call is indefinite and provides a bridge over these fears so that we can form community again, not be the same but form and renew.  DO we really have to be the same for generation after generation or do we need to change and become Christlike in our ministry to those around us.  Connecting in new ways and forming new growth in the midst of the desert.  Achieving just desserts of a recovered reinvigorated and renewed community.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Stasis or movement

The story of the transfiguration (Mk 9.2-9) is illuminating in a number of ways.  For the Church it is a challenge that has never really been taken up or at least not explored to any depth for a full understanding by all.  The most interesting part of the story for me is Peter's response for this has been the response of the Church throughout the ages with a few deviations that keep on coming back to his response (Mk. 9.5-6).  This in response to the full majesty of Christ's revelation and the onward movement to the cross that immediately follows.

Scripture is filled with the idea of movement and change beginning in Genesis and continuing on through the prophets (2 Kings 2.1-12) to the final book of Revelations.  A movement that is embraced by God but often rejected by the majority of humankind. Archbishop Kay in her sermon at her installation yesterday inferred much of this by referring to the dual views as does the retired Pope Benedict XVI who views the church as a ship taking on water.  In our call from God to be lights to the world we are called into change.  Our lives change, our outlook changes and our priorities change.  We can deny God's call to change.  It is not often that we are strong enough to outright deny what God calls us to as God is persistent, we just have to read Jonah to see that.  However we have an alternative method for refusing God's call on ourselves.  In the end it does not get us any where, in fact it is a device that actually stagnates us.  This is the device that Peter wishes to use at the Transfiguration.  He wants to refuse the need to change the call by God into a new life, an new perspective, a new world.
Tradition constrains us to our human thoughts, God calls us to stretch into the future

Just like Peter we to or rather the Church has used this way to prevent the Spirit of God and God's call from moving towards the change that God looks for in our lives.  Peter wants to put down structures, solid foundations (Peter the Rock).  Solidity that will not move and will become a place of reverence, of stasis.  In much the same way we manage to do the same in our lives of faith.  We form structures and places that we are accustomed to and inhabit, in more senses of the word then one.  Once we have formed our habits our places of comfort we have a great deal of difficulty moving forward.  We form our structures not only out of stone and brick but also out of habitus and words.  If we are comfortable doing and saying the same things then that is always our response.  If we look at for example a piece of liturgy, like the peace.  We can suggest that it could be moved.  Horror everyone says. This is the place that it has been since year...  But why will it not have more feeling to it if it were in a different place,  In some places you dare not sit in the wrong seat as this disrupts our sensibilities and our comfort.  It becomes a structure to which we cling and cannot part from even if Christ calls us onwards towards the cross.

Once we realise that it is these structures, traditions, forms that are holding us back; will we be able to complete our journey of faith to the foot of the cross?  For some people it is impossible to move away from the security of their home and life.  In some parts of the country there are people who have never moved further than forty kilometers away from their homes.  Tradition and structure have stifled their own sense of call.  Reading scripture each day reminds us that God calls us into newness of life not stagnancy.  We are, if we are bound to God, harried out of our own stagnant swamps to find eternal light in the darkness of the despondency that we see in the world.  Paul says that we are but "earthenware jars" (2 Cor 4.7) but earthen ware jars can be transformed into lamp stands that shine the light of Christ into the world. We do not always have to repeat what was done in the past.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Stranger danger

In looking at ourselves as communities of faith, we believe that we are welcoming to the other.  If we were to look at ourselves from a totally different perspective, i.e. a Muslim woman, would we feel the same?  In looking at ourselves we perceive what we wish to see and sometimes we are blind to how we actually react to difference.  The same applies to any community to which we belong, if we perceive a threat in a person from outside, no matter what that threat may be, we often turn ourselves away.  We defend what we perceive to be our community.  In times when this occurs we need to turn to scripture to see how to manage as people of faith.  Paul is very firm in his first letter to the Corinthians (9.16-23) as he states that he ministers as if he were from the group.  For Christ it is a case on ministering to everyone irrespective in the same loving manner but taking an opportunity to withdraw (Mk 1.21-31).

Is either better. No.  It is a case here of what works best for our own communities.  Sometimes we need to set up and manage our ministry as Paul did.  That means that we have to be sufficiently open with ourselves and with others about who we are.  It means that we have to draw along side the other and find out who they are.  It means allowing the other into our lives as the other moves into ours.  In becoming as the other we are able to bring God's presence into their lives.  How?  By living as Christ within their midst as one of those whom we class as other.  This is incarnational ministry, a ministry that we need to practice in today's society so that those who are other can come to understand the message of Christ.  We mirror Christ's presence and live in his light whilst being ourselves and living as the other.  Only when we are totally accepted for who we are can we even start to minister as Christ.  This means that we need to be fully aware of ourselves as messengers of Christ. We can not come alongside someone who we detest in our thoughts and hearts.  Our pre-judgement of their lives will be lived out in our actions.  We will become rejected and move away from the opportunity God gave to us.  If we approach and come alongside with the love of God for all people we will be able to minister to those who are different by understanding their difficulties rather than apportioning blame, prejudice and hatred.
Do we offer the water of life or water poisoned by our own needs?

We have difficulty with incarnational ministry because it exposes our thoughts to those around us.  If we are quick to reveal our own prejudices then we are unable to come close to the other.  We then attempt to be as Christ to the multitude.  In this we also fail.  Why?  In our attempts to reach the many we open the community to outsiders and then complain when new changes appear in our midst. Or else we make the attempt on a superficial level and proclaim that we are doing so well.  In reality we are providing no more than a social service without the deeper and profounder interaction that Christ has with his people.  Christ heals those that come to him in our attempts we so often poison the wells of love with the corruption of our desire.  We form our own little kingdoms within which we rule to the detriment of all those who would stand by our side.  It takes time and effort to become as Christ to those around us and to those we serve.  That sometimes means that we retreat from the world but it does not mean that we give up.  Rather it is often time to move on to offer our gifts and the Christ light within us to others.  We cannot despair when this occurs but rather sing in joyous praise for the work of Christ in the lives of those around us.