Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Witness of Faith

What is it about someone's faith journey that makes them into an acknowledged Saint?  Yes, I am aware that there is a whole ecclesiastical rigmarole around the granting of sainthood in the Catholic tradition, otherwise almost everyone would be considered a saint one way or another.  In the Anglican tradition it is somewhat less hierarchical but it is a consensus means of recognition from the local to the National and thus onto the international stage so to speak.  The question though still remains as to what constitutes sainthood within the life of the person.

As we celebrate the patronal festival of St George's, Applecross it is a worthwhile question to ask ourselves.  We also need to ask a further question with regards to St George as he is considered a martyr, so what is or who is a martyr?  I think, we may simply answer that one by saying that it is that the person died for the cause but is that right?  Everyone eventually dies and if they have an outstanding faith have they to not died for the cause as they have given their lives to their faith? Perhaps.  However, we must not loose sight of the fact that a martyr is only a witness to their faith and their death is a minor detail. Although we often remember them for their deaths, it is their lives that are more important.

Christ tells us that we will be persecuted as a result of our faith and the non acceptance of God in others lives (Jn 14.20-21).  It is something that we need to expect if we are living a Christian life and out of God's boundless grace comes our encouragement to proclaim our faith in the world despite the risk of persecution. Today we celebrate, St George, who out of the courage of his lived faith was able to defy an Emperor.  His holding to his faith in everyday life meant more to him then live itself.  Some perhaps would have classified him as foolish when he defied Emperor Diocetlian.  Even today we would perhaps not class his actions as imbued with wisdom especially considering it led to his loosing his head.

Can we slay the dragons within our own communities?

It may be unlikely that we ourselves will be in a situation that would lead to a lose of life in the literal sense.  However, in a more proverbial sense we may still sacrifice ourselves with the grace of God to honour and live up to our faith.  Social ostracisation is perhaps the greatest death we will endure in this day and age in this country.  The fear of which can lead to our compromising the faith we should be living by.  The Christian faith journey is one which we travel as we grow closer to Christ.  It means that we must truly accept the challenges that Christ's example brings to our lives and by God's grace live them out to the fullest.  The constancy of communal worship is not our or should not be our sole purpose in being a Christian.  The challenge is to accept the risen Christ as part of our daily lives.  This does not mean that we over play our Christianity, shouting Allelulia every second chance we get nor is about hiding it away so that nobody can identify us as part of a faith tradition.

The saints and martyrs of today are those that live out the vision of Christ in their daily lives.  Our concern is not so much about what others think us, it is about showing others the presence of Christ in our living.  Each of us is made in the image of God which means that everyone, irrespective of race, creed or gender, is an image of God. We are asked to witness to God and Christ by accepting that identification.  We witness to Christ by standing up within our local, national and international communities to identify those difficult to hold ideals of justice, freedom, peace and love.  We make an effort not to be hypocritical in our lives as individuals and communities, by stating one thing in communal worship and doing another when in the community.  It is about identifying within ourselves those things that we accept which are contrary to our beliefs.

Living our lives as Christ is not easy, ask the saints and martyrs of history. It does not matter what era you live in the faith path is one that is fraught with difficulty.  It places us outside the norm of society, or it should do.  Indeed we can see this because we fear, ostracise and allow ourselves to hate those who do.  We just need to look at our treatment of those who follow their own faith journey religiously.  We join the ranks of those who do not know God when we do this as we do not place our trust in God's presence and grace but rather fear the life of witness and faith.  Instead we need to martyr ourselves for our faith by living that faith in a genuine desire to bring God's love into the hearts and minds of our communities.  We should be able to trust our faith ad not fear the other whose journey while different to ours may also be about that same love and embodiment of God in their lives. So let us put St Georges life, not death, in our minds as we witness as he did to our communities this day.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Shepherd of the flock

We could say that today is Shepherd Sunday as this is one of the Sundays, if not the Sunday of the year, when we discuss the proposition of the Shepherd as a model for Christ or God or Jesus.  In seeing this description we immediately think of leadership but we also need to think in terms of those who are being led.  First of all why use the model in the first place?  A bit archaic given modern farming practices and the imagery which surrounds Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Think of all those stain glass windows and book illustrations of a clean fresh faced Jesus and some clean looking sheep.

The reality in the context of the era and the Middle East is a much less romantic figure.  The shepherd, like David, was often the youngest in the family (no other occupation suits).  A loner who was often unmarried. Smelly and unwashed, sheep are not the most cleanly of animals and certainly have their own aroma. Uncouth to say the least.  Often not the owners of the sheep, normally hired hands or as previously mentioned the youngest in the family (No inheritance here).  Often apart from community and not participants in the normal everyday workings of community. This is the figure that is used in Scripture as the embodiment of leadership and of God! Why?

Well let us look at what the shepherd does.  If we picture a Middle Eastern scene where a shepherd would normally be the vision of Psalm 23 although beautiful is not exactly the true picture.  Rather it is a desolate hilly country with little to commend it self in terms of grazing.  Yet the shepherd will lead his flock through this barren landscape to areas where he knows that there is fodder and forage available to the flock.  During the trek some sheep may play up but unless they get into extreme difficulty they are often likely to rejoin the flock as they know they will be looked after in the group.  The shepherd does not use force with his sheep but rather is self effacing doing what is required for the good of the whole rather than that of the individual.
The harsh landscape of Jordan with the shepherd leading his sheep (

Despite looking as if they are amenable sheep can be ornery and recalcitrant, especially when left to fend for themselves.  So it is quite to their benefit to be known by the shepherd and follow where he leads, so they have a role to play in the flock and shepherd scene.  If they were to play follow the leader they would in all probability be like army ants, who, if having lost their nest, will follow the ant in front.  If that ant is lost or walking in a circle then they have no guarantee that they will survive.  Indeed the ant in front may find another ant in front as it circles (the tail end of its own followers).  They forever go around in circles until the majority die!! Is this what has become of the Church?

So if we are sheep who is the shepherd? and who is the under shepherd to whom authority has been given to lead the flock to the abundant pastures which are indicated in Psalm 23?  These questions have implications for us today in Applecross Parish as we move towards the AGM but also within Australia with the possibilities of elections.  They are not simple questions with simple answers (God, Jesus, the Christ, etc) but they impinge on our daily lives not just our faith journey.  Working with people within the reality of our context is not the same as working with our faith journey although the two should be overlapping. What should we be looking for in our leaders when we look at the Shepherd model that scripture gives us.

Our leaders should be looking to lead the whole not just their own personal coterie (party, personal accounts, etc).  Scripture is specific about leadership being for the whole (flock) not just for the individual.  Our leaders should be those who listen to the needs of others and to the call of God our ultimate shepherd.  Our leader(s) should have the vision that leads the people (flock) to those pastures where we obtain sustenance.  Our leaders should be able to discern the path to take even if it means consulting and speaking to others to smooth the way.  Our leaders should not resort to violence or coercion except as a very last resort.  Leadership should be looking for solutions in conflict that are beneficial to both sides and all of God's creation.

As sheep we are also required to hear our leaders, be persuaded to assist not forced or conscripted against our will, be able to speak against wrong doing and be heard, should not be persuaded by popularity but by experience and results.  We must also remember that we ourselves are leaders as we too love our neighbours and so will speak out for the disenfranchised to obtain justice and lead people to the love of God through the expression of God's love in our hearts and lives.

Will we listen to God in the coming months as we discern leadership in Australia and the parish or will we succumb to the populist views and propaganda? Are we able to show the true leadership which is part of who we are as Christians and discern God's will and path in our lives?  No matter what we do, it is our responsibility and decisions that determines the leadership in the Church, in Society and in our lives.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Australian camps - a short discursive

In a previous post I mentioned the book Homo Sacer by Giorgio Agamben in which he looks at sovereignty and modern political life or rather its historical power bases and development.  (This is only my interpretation and probably not really the take home message.) Not withstanding that he makes some interesting observations around the Concentration camp and its political ramifications.

Some of those ramifications pose questions for the Australian citizen in relation to the Off shore detention centres used to process refugees coming by routes other than those accepted by the government.  There is also a wider implication for the burgeoning use of camps in Europe which need to be noted.  In short Agamben suggests that the birth of the camp (referring to the Concentration camp in modern political life) produces a 'lasting crisis' which disrupts the normal rules of citizenship and law.  Indeed he writes that "It is significant that the camps appear together with new laws on citizenship and denationalisation of citizens".   The camp becomes a place were the normal order is de facto suspended and allows for an order which is imposed by the guards which is outside the sovereignty of the host country.

Razor wire or humanity? (

His analyses appears to be very creepy in light of recent political moves and re-forming of citizenship laws.  Questions which arise in my mind relate to how far down the track towards the inhumanity previously seen in other manifestations of camps is the Australian state?  Certainly it appears that we have already stripped the inhabitants of the camps of their humanity by treating them as we do.  We appear also to have stripped them of their 'rights' as citizens as we have stripped them of that status by placing them into the camp.  It matters not whether the citizenship is of Australia or some other country.  The fact of placing them away from access strips them from the ideal or knowledge of being part of a country.

As Christians where is our stance?  Christ on the cross is stripped of all humanity and citizenship and yet embraces us with total love within the citizenship of God's reign.  Our leaders suggest that they are good upstanding people of faith which would suggest that their views should be formed within the cauldron of faith formation.  However, it would appear that faith does not inform those who proclaim their faith on the political platform.  Perhaps our faith is no longer a valued informer of our political views.  Yet as people of faith, irrespective of that faith, we should surely inform our opinions from what we hold dear to our spiritual life.  In the coming elections our decisions with regards to voting need to be discerned in terms of faith not in terms of our political orientation or party affiliation.  Do we as people of faith hold with the dehumanisation of others and placing of the other within a political vacuum or are we welcoming of the other realising that God is present in the face of all humanity not just those who are like us?

If we are true to our faith than surely we must invite that faith in to inform our political ideals.  It should not be the ambiguous 'Citizen safety' or 'safety of the state' but rather the birth of incarnate love within each of us that brings about a better good rather than the erection of the palisades to hide behind.  Do we see the suffering of Christ within the faces of the dispossessed? or do we see our own ambiguous fears of a disruption to our own autonomy and citizenship of country?

History or just story

Today we are confronted with two readings which have had an ongoing effect on the lives of the Christian Church.  In one we see the 'commissioning'  of Peter to go out and 'Feed my sheep' (Jn 21.1-19) and the second that gives us an understanding of Saul's 'conversion' (Acts 9.1-6).  In looking at these two passages in the scriptures my debate and doubt within myself is to ask regarding the reality of these events and what might our understanding be if we viewed them from a different perspective?

If this is true reportage of events and we have interpreted them over history correctly as such then we will be well versed in our understanding.  The events portrayed delineate the risen Christ's commissioning of Peter and his historical movement through preaching and evangelism towards being the first Bishop of Rome.  He becomes a fisherman of men rather than of the abundant and mundane fish of the Tiberian sea.  The Saul / Paul dichotomy of post and after is read as the conversion event of history, upon which we judge all other such events.  Indeed to have a 'Road to Damascus' event has entered into the lexicon of our judgement of fellow Christian travelers. Something that we aspire to or wish to have so that we may become one with Christ and portray that oneness to the world.

What if we now look at these two 'events' as stories, much as we look at favourite bedtime stories or fairy tales.  Those often gross tales that have moral or practical inputs into our lives from which we gain insights into the world around us and our ethical response.  What difference does such a vision have upon these two passages from Scripture?  Do these post resurrection tales have something to say other than the theo-logical interpretation that may loose us in a plethora of un-followable verbiage and convoluted thought process?

Does the 'author' of the Johanine tale speak to us about a natural development as the disciples and followers of the Christ come to terms with a resurrection that is not corpreal like Lazarus but is more bodily than spiritual?  Does it reach out to us with an understanding or a realisation of what the resurrection means to them at the time, which can only be expressed in a tale?  If this is the case what are the elements that point us into a new humanity formed in the understanding and embodiment of Christ?

Forming community, family and a place of safety.

First let us imagine the scene, a night of fishing without a catch, tired and dispirited people in a boat.  A common enough scene, something identifiable in our imaginations.  A voice from shore suggesting something different.  Perhaps recognising that they have fished only on one side, perhaps showing us that we need sometimes to look from a different perspective.  However, such suggestions in our lives are easily dismissed as we continue on our own agenda. Down the oft driven track and 'proven' way of doing things.  The story reminds us that it is only in action that the result of an abundance is achieved.  It is only when we respond in our lives that we come to understand the resurrection, it is not there in explanation it is present in action.  Only when we hear the call upon our lives do we begin to change our understanding.  The question to ask is: Can we act on alternative views or are we stuck on our own track of tried and proven means?

Once we start to see from a different perspective we come to see Christ in our midst.  With a shout of joy and recognition we abandon our stability and move to meet the risen Christ in fellowship and a welcoming of the extreme other, who now enters our life.  In doing so we entertain a simple meal, an offering from nature, for which we give thanks and feel the warmth of fellowship around the fire which denotes community; a place of safety, friendship, love in a world of fear, hatred and isolation.  Is this what the risen Christ means in our society?  Is this the place of the Body of Christ?

Luke's pseudo biography of Paul is perhaps best seen as a fantasy developed for the author's own requirements and purposes.  How can Paul convert?  He is a Jew moving from one view to another within the same religious tradition.  The moment is real but not instantaneous.  Paul's apocalyptic vision is life changing as he comes to understand the resurrection from a different perspective, which in his own words obviously needs time to digest (Gal.  1.13-18).  A whole three years of digestion.  There is a process of understanding, of accepting the new perspective and relating it to what we know of and in the world.  It is only when we have incorporated the call of God's radical hospitality into our lives that we begin to understand the purport of the resurrection as we come into a new life in Christ.

Many of those that proclaim the faith of Christ, after their Damascus road experience, are seen not to fulfill the life of Christ within their own lives.  Our ignorance and doubts are harbingers of new life, rather than the certainty proclaimed by those who 'know' with dogmatic truths that cannot cope with everyday lived lives.  In doubt we are able to encompass the alternate vision, not in the certainty of our own ways.  In ignorance we look for Christ in new places and find the risen Christ within our own lives as we interact with the other in community.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Waiting - a short reflection

Having just finished reading the philosopher, Giorgio Agamben's book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, it was interesting to be admitted for day surgery.  What has politics to do with waiting for surgery you may ask?  On reflection it was how the waiting was drawn out in the first of several 'spaces' of non-existence. Holding bays that formed a quintessential overlap between being and non-being in the life of the ward and the nurses involved.

Having been passed through the mounting paper work that is involved in the admittance of a 'patient' into the hospital system the body is left in a shielded area that can be looked in upon but not out wards.  The indistinguishability of the clothing from every other body in the same situation added to the ethereal effect of being present but not-present.  Dressed for theatre in a sameness that was a reducing for all the bodies in a similar situation and de-marked the body as being outside but inside at the same time.  We were outside the normality of life as we awaited surgery or procedure and appeared to be treated as something 'sacred'; put aside from life prior to a sacrifice (surgery) that would could not happen in that place.  Yet we were inside the functioning system of the whole and an integral part of the day to day life of the nurses and ward staff as they served the needs of the system but not the person.

Time passed with no knowledge of time passing as there was nothing to indicate the passage of time.  It was as if we were within a cocoon waiting for a signal to arrive for an emergence into something new that had become.  The un-marked body was removed or removed itself to another place of waiting before entering into the theatre.

It emerged from the theatre now marked into the same place that was before.  A de-marked area shielded and obscure had now become a place of activity and renewal.  The body now became the centre of attention rather than a place of absence.  Concern and empathy was present where preoccupation and inattention were before. Time was rather than the was not of earlier.  The sacred and untouchable had become the site of touch and normal life.

Was that deserted place of the before but a seeking of God's presence outside of the ward community. An intrusion into life as perceived by the staff.  God's presence that was only found in the empathy and care that was given after the body had been marked as being part of life in the theatre.

Should as much attention be given to the body before as is given after? or is it alright to manage the incoming as another anonymous body once the paper work had been done?  Is there a place for a sympathetic ear and an openness to others rather than a sealing off into a space that has been set apart? A place that could give rise to fears and trepidation would then become a place of solace and comfort, of ease and relaxation prior to theatre.

A thought no more than a fleeting thought.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Room to doubt

We come this day to once again bring someone into the life of Christ and the presence of God through baptism.  In doing so it is appropriate to hear the readings of "Doubting Thomas" from John's Gospel as it shows us an understanding of the presence of doubt in our own faith journey. If we read the story over I wonder if we still think that Thomas doubted at all but rather was slower than the others to believe.  After all they had the luxury of having seen the risen Christ.  Was their doubt just as marked as Thomas's when the women reported the emptiness of the tomb?

The question to ask is: Did Thomas reach out and touch Christ's side?  I think most people today would say that he did but John has a gap here in the text which we have presumptively filled with Thomas touching the Christ.  A presumption that has come from the art work of painters such as Caravaggio who portrays Thomas's finger thrust into the wound.  Perhaps it is the one thing that in this day and age we would all prefer.  Scientific method and the precepts of science have taken us down this route physical evidence.  We cannot believe anything today unless it has been scientifically proven.  If Christ was to appear before us we would demand evidence.  A biopsy so that the tissue could be analysed.  An MRI or an X-ray would let us know more about the body, the risen body of Christ.  Doctors and scientists would have to lay out the physical evidence before their peers and we would then be satisfied that what we saw was indeed the risen Christ.

Caravaggio's painting of Thomas and the risen Christ.  Do we need to physically touch to believe?

Thomas and the disciples do none of these.  They believe when they see.  If we cannot have the physical evidence then perhaps the visual is the next best thing.  All the other disciples saw Christ so why can't Thomas not believe, he didn't.  Would you?  Is your belief such that if a person told you that they had seen the risen Christ you would without hesitation say yes I believe you?  Especially under the circumstances of having known he was buried.  Much the same as if someone told you that they had seen Princess Diana or Nelson Mandela within hours of their burial / funeral.  They do say that seeing is believing but nowadays even that is not true.  We have so many wonderful programmes on the computer that can doctor the photograph that you took.  On Facebook I have seen people's faces on various animals as people have toyed with these various programmes.  Do we really believe now what is shown to us in a photograph?  So for us is seeing believing or would we want to devolve down to touch as Thomas asked?

The disciples were told by the women that the tomb was empty (Luke) and indeed that Mary had spoken with the risen Lord (John).  Yet, the disciples did not believe.  It is almost as if there is another hole in the readings, a gap, where nothing happens until the Disciples see the risen Christ.  Even Mary does not really believe until she has spoken with the Christ.  Most of them are either totally disbelieving or unconcerned as if there is an air of unreality drifting over them.  Collective hallucinations as a result of their grief rather than an understanding of God working in the world in the presence of Christ.  If someone told you that a bomb had gone of in the middle of Sydney, would you believe them or think it was an April fools joke after the fact.  You would want to see it on News 24 or some other media circus or at least corroboration from a multiple of sources.  Truth telling has long since disappeared from the public arena such that we can believe what we hear.

In this day and age doubt has a place in our faith journey.  Doubt sows the seed of inquiry as we begin our journey in faith.  The child we baptise today is a person who has been born into a world filled with certainties that are presented to her  through touch and sight.  Through physical provability and confidence in her senses. The sciences will aid her in understanding the physical world in which she lives and comes to maturity in.  A world that has placed its reliance on the measurement and categorisation of the world around us and is skeptical of that which is unseen and non-physical.  We are asking her parents and God parents to bring her up in faith.  To draw her into a development of that which can not be measured and categorised.  In this age of science they have a profoundly difficult undertaking as they are asked to develop in this young child of God an ability which even we find hard to hold.  The ability to believe in something that is not able to be encompassed by our methods of proof.  This is not an easy task as we all know for we are all guilty of some level of doubt in our lives.  If handled correctly however our doubt can be transformed into a faith that is as compelling as the disciples on seeing the risen Christ.  We may not have the assurance of the visual confirmation that they had of the risen Christ but we will have a growing knowledge that God is part of our journey as our doubts are answered.  We are asked to come to an understanding of God's presence in our lives that is not confirmed by our senses but is confirmed by our belief in a risen Christ.

Hearing Thomas' doubt we can see ourselves.  Hearing Thomas' words to the risen Christ we need to see the trajectory of our faith and the fulfillment of Christ in our lives.  We may be filled with doubt but our goal is in the faith that we hear Thomas enunciate. "My Lord, My God"