Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The assumption of idolatory

Paul writing to the Galatians states  'the Gospel I preached is not made up' (Gal. 1.11) having first lambasted the Galatian readers for having so quickly turned away from that Gospel (Gal 1. 5-9). The passage from 1 Kings is the end of the contest between Elijah and the priests of Ba'al (1 Kings 18.30-39).  Both of these are in contrast to the Gospel story of the Centurion in Luke (Lk 7.1-10) which describes the faith displayed by one outside of the religious community.  These stories for me turn on the ease in which we are persuaded to move away from the Gospel to other idols in our daily lives.

We so easily assume idols into our daily lives forgetting the promulgation of the Gospel in our lives.  In doing so we make a mockery of our Christian journey and faith.  Last week in speaking about the Trinity I observed that we can so easily turn each aspect of the Trinity into a divisive and idolatrous idol by the way we worship.  In truth we can so easily turn the everyday into an idol as we live and work within a secular society that has limited, if no understanding of the sacred. We latch on to those things that are made sacred by the society in which we live and turn away from our own knowledge of the sacred.  I am sure that we can name a few without even thinking too hard; the Dockers, the Eagles (West Coast or the band), Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, etc.  In Kings this worship of the ordinary is shown by the move of the Israelites towards the Ba'al. What we are doing is turning our modern icons into 'Lords' or Ba'al as rendered in the semitic languages of the Middle East.

Is this what religion and Christianity is about?  Where is Christ?

The secular nature of Australian society leads us away from the numinous as it becomes less a language we engage in and more of a hidden gnosis.  Our icons in the modern age become our Lords as we follow their progress on Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.  Just like religious converts in ages past we become extreme supporters (believers) and will hear nothing to the detriment of our chosen idol.  Just as with any convert, the zeal in which we follow the idol of the day can and indeed may often lead to violence, just as any other religious zealotry (Crusades, Muslim terrorism, etc).  Yet, as we well know such fervour is often short lived as we switch from one icon to the next in an never ending round of searching for meaning.  The shallowness of our zeal renders us unable to search for the numinous and the reality of spiritual life.  We are left spinning in a world that appears to be moving out of control as we try to find a meaningful centre to our lives.  This behaviour can be seen stretching through millennia and faithfully reported in the Scriptures as with the confrontation with the priests of Ba'al.

The question for us is a simple one. Can we in the context of modern society have the faith to stand up and denounce the prophets of Ba'al in today's secular society?  We have lost our space in the public square as a result of the concerted push of consumerism and the faithless religion of secularism, modern atheism.  We no longer have the words to appeal to modern humanity, to speak of our faith journey within the context of society as we leave our tools within the worship service unable to translate the abundance of grace into our daily lives.  It is the lived life that has the greatest impact on our communities not our words.  In Luke it is the centurion's lived life that impresses Christ not his faithless words.  It is when we bein to abandon the idols of our modern society and start to live into Christ that we begin to understand the riches and grace that abounds within our faith journey.

In taking up the way once more, the way that our fellow Christians in the early days of the Christian journey knew and understood, we become different to the rest of the society around us.  We proclaim that difference in the way we do things, in the way we operate within the constraints of society.  Christian's did not participate int he games of ancient Rome and yet we participate in the games of modern society.  Our word in the public sphere has been lost because we do not stand up for the truth any longer only the words that society wish to hear or have placed within our mouths.  We cannot move as Christians because we are hampered by the preconceptions that we have created to camouflage our identities.  Like submarines we crawl beneath the surface hiding ourselves from the people around us, embattled within our own tombs.  To display our faith means living our faith.  The centurion was not afraid and he above all would have been called in by the authorities for his proclamation of that faith.  Why are we so afraid?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Trinitarian imaginings

Today is the day we celebrate the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Today is liturgically Trinity Sunday.  Our first reading from Proverbs is for me the most engaging of the readings (Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31) as it talks about Sophia or Wisdom.  Readings like this remind us of the fact that it is from God that wisdom arises not from ourselves and this is perhaps our most important realisation on a day like today.

On Friday, I attended a seminar with David Tacey who was talking about or rather asked the question 'Does Australian Spirituality exist?'.  One of the perhaps important things that David said was that our ideas and talk about God are only metaphoric not reality.  As people of faith we need to realise this and not destroy peoples faith by seeking to place spiritual journeys in the tenuous position of trying to defend something that in today's age is obviously not literally the case.  An example could be seeing God as an elderly gentleman with a white beard residing somewhere above us.  Quite rightly, Tacey suggested, that such God talk will and is driving our younger generations away from the organised faith based journey.

If this is the case, and I think I would agree with Tacey, my question would be how do we talk about God in today's world?  A place where there is an increase in the 'atheistic religion', where people are looking for a spiritual life outside dogma and religion,  Many people believe in a 'higher power' and it was stated yesterday that some 49% of people want to talk about these things but do not know where to go.  Perhaps because our God talk is not current but 2nd century philosophical meanderings with metaphoric understandings of something that is not understandable. If that makes sense!  An attempt to bring God down to the level of humanity rather than seeking to bring humanity up to God.  The trinitarian concept of God, which we have, is a good one, if we remind ourselves of its context.  It forms the basis of our God story over the last 2000 odd years but even over that time each generation has added its own twists and tweaks in order to make sense of the concept, is it time to re-imagine the trintarian concept in today's world?

The interconnectedness of all life the basis of trinitarianism 

Perhaps an outrageous thought but not one that we should put aside lightly.  It does not mean that we should go over the same ground that has been argued over the centuries and caused division within the Church.  It just means that we have to do some really deep thinking on a subject that we do not want to embrace although it embraces us each day.  The difficulty about talking about God is that we actually do not know anything about God in today's world.  We have thrown God out with the bathwater and expect churches to show us God in a tangible manner.  We rush around hopping on planes and computers, etc to go from one thing to another to see if we can catch God as if God were as tangible as a virus.  In embracing the 'Enlightenment' it has become its own contranym for any faith community.  We have perhaps introduced our own spiritual  dis-ease by allowing those things which are below the rational surface to fade in to the hinterland of discourse.

The wisdom of the world, which is found within the indigenous peoples of the world, is the knowledge of our own interconnectedness.  This knowledge was demonstrated by the early Christians and was part of their faith journey as they tried to express this appreciation of God.  An interconnectedness that is encapsulated by the discussions and debates that led to the promulgation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  We in the modern secular world have lost, or rather suppressed, the ability to understand this wisdom.  Perhaps, as Leunig suggests, it is because we are moving to fast and have lost our ability to slow down.  Indigenous peoples know this and try to gift it to us within the slow movement of nature to which they are attuned. This has perhaps led to an extensive enantiodomia that has seen a rising mental health crisis within our secular nations.

The trinitarian formulation has I believe resulted in an ever increasing divide within the faith community as we each affiliate ourselves closely with one part of the whole (either the Father, or the Son or the Spirit) without claiming the wholeness of God that is the underlying foundation of the trinitarian formulation.  A foundation that is interconnected and not divided, that is a whole and not the sum of its parts; that has been lost as a result of our own paucity of explanation and understanding. In glorifying one of the Trinity we tend to idolise that one conception and forget that there is more to God.  Until we can get around the idea that God is in all; a much greater God than we can conceive of, then we will continue to reduce our faith to an ember.  Rather we should allow God's wisdom to so infuse our being with wholeness so that we shine as a Christ light in the world.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Diversity and unity

Pentecost has for the church been a time of celebration.  We decorate our buildings with red and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as it settles upon the disciples and Apostles gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2.1-).  We concentrate on the excitement that this brings, the expectation, the wonder in tongues of fire and rushing wind.  This is the exciting side of the Spirit the rush, the high that has been experienced by movements of renewal through out the history of the church.  It's legacy is exuberant expounding of God's love for the person whose life is changed and can for many become wearing.  It can quite often be seen as being false and theatrical as it is easy to create an appearance to attract and motivate others whilst not actually being spirit driven.

Is the fire of the Spirit in your heart? (Thinktheology.com)

There is an other side of this that we can read and is either overlooked as being too mundane or blown out of all proportion in misunderstanding or for its exuberance and flashiness.  I am of course speaking of the Apostles and disciples ability to talk in tongues.  In the experience that is reported it is of interest to note that the writer specifically details that all of those present heard the disciples talking in their own language (Acts 2.11b).  There was no misunderstanding of the message that was being given all heard and clearly understood, not having to struggle with the difficulty of translating from one language to another.  Diverse as they were in their own cultures and language groupings they were able to understand the message clearly and distinctly making them into one cohesive whole despite their differences.  It is quite clear that what we think, today, as speaking in tongues is not what we perceive here as we associate this phrase with glossolalia, sounds which are structured in the form of a language which may or may not be interpretable (Acts 10.44-46).  In this report each person understood their own language.

Place oneself within a place where there is a number of different languages being spoken and you can quickly become disconnected or you sharpen your focus to those conversations / words that are being spoken in a language that you understand.  In South Africa, worship services within the Anglican church could become very confusing as often anything up to 11 languages could be used within the worship.  You may find yourself next to a person saying the Lords prayer in Zulu on one side and Setswana on the other while you are trying to say it in English.  Each person hears their own language and responds within that language.  The true gift that is given here at Pentecost is the gift of communication.  The ability to transmit the Christian message within the confines of another's cultural and language norms.  If we want to do this in the normal fashion we have to spend hours, months and days just trying to fathom the internal structure and grammar of the language.  It is the one thing that we are often poor at giving praise for especially to those who have a facility for language. We often do not even think or operate on the fact that this is a gift from God which needs to be truly praised.

In the normal course of events our words and our idioms lose a portion of our thought as they go through the process of translation. The other language / culture colonises ours in ways that may lead to misunderstanding of our intent.  In the same way our content is not only conveyed in language but also in tone and in the physicality of gestures and body positioning.  Again a different language as Sign language proponents will tell you.  Each of us reads these arcane signs so that they have meaning for us but that meaning may be as diverse as our very lives and our cultural upbringing.  No wonder it appears to be a babble of noise that leads to misunderstanding in the world especially for those who do not belong to the faith community as we speak of love and act in a manner that interprets love differently for each one.  In order to be clear and ensure our message is not misinterpreted by the translation what is the message that we need to communicate.

The disciples all spoke and yet the same message was delivered.  The intent was the same for all of them.  They came out of the same place and were embedded within the same reality.  We nowadays do not.  We need to go back to basics we need to be reminded of the message as we turn to Christ and remind ourselves the "I am the way, the truth and the life." (Jn. 14.6).  This is the message that needs to be mirrored in our totality as it was in the disciples.  The act of communication was on in terms of their lives.  They acted, spoke and lived in Christ and God.  Their communication was complete as all heard and believed.  They heard intellectually, they heard physically and they heard their faith.  This is how the message becomes realised and is communicated to those around us.  It is only when we act physically in concert with living and speaking the Gospel will we be able to communicate the Gospel message.  This is when the Spirit grabs us, this is when there is growth and renewal, this is when we energise and worship; forgetting ourselves, our needs, our wants.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Political upheavel

It is interesting to see the start of the election campaign in Australia.  It is interesting to note that there is in reality no newness to the approaches to the campaign being made by any prospective politician.  It is also interesting to note the way people are approaching the coming election in terms of "wants".  I often find it ludicrous that when one political (party, individual, side) states the "we will give..." the opposite side says either "we will give more..." or "They cannot fund...".  I also find it amusing when various interest groups start to voice their needs, it is always "Yes, but it could have been more..." or "They did not give to us who are more deserving...".

Should we be divisive or  discerning in our politics?

Why is this rhetoric so amusing?  Yes, everyone should get everything how wonderful that would be but at the end of the day their is a limited amount of money, finance, will, etc. as any good manager knows.  What does not appear to happen, because it would destroy the competitiveness of the political scene, is any indication of good governance.  If corporations, Churches and NGOs where to be run like politics, what a laugh.  Who is it that the prospective government are going to be leading? Is this debacle for a grasp at power? of course!  Is it for the country's benefit? Doubtful.  Is it for the populace? what an incredible thought.  How could it possibly be for this or even for the benefit of the country?

What I would offer is a dream borne out of my faith journey, a dream borne out of the rigours of life, a dream that entails truth, compassion and peace.  Perhaps the next leader ought to look to their faith (if they have one, many profess one) and see what it says to them of how we treat our neighbours, the other.  This requires skill in negotiating, this requires acknowledging our own needs and placing them behind us, this requires listening and compassion, this requires action that is relevant and not a result of political power/want, this requires balancing the competing interests, this requires fairness to all, this requires understanding and admitting your wrong.  The list is endless and it means a re-think for our politicians as to how they act and for whom they act.  By all means follow a particular party but remember that you are being elected by people not by the party.  By all means accept party policies but challenge them openly when they do not conform with your belief systems and those you represent.  It also means not being divisive in how we approach our choices but use language and seek actions that move towards both / and rather than either / or

We need to change.  Life is about growth and about challenge that leads to change.  We cannot stay the same if we are to grow.  Look at a plant and you will see that it changes as it grows before dying. I wonder if there is any more growth in the various political parties or should they die as all living things eventually do.  It is only out of death that new life comes as our faith tells us.  Do we dare attempt new things that are borne out of our faith convictions or must be continue to struggle with stagnation?  I found fascinating two clips that surfaced on facebook both challenging for different reasons; the song by Bernard Fanning and the Three minutes of honest TV.  The three minutes clip, although probably staged, shows how misleading our own political rhetoric really is and that we actually need to think through what we are told very, very, carefully.  Most especially our preconceptions and accepted beliefs.  The Bernard Fanning song is an indictment against all leaders and ourselves for it is we who vote them into that position.  So I challenge those who state they have faith to think, pray and carefully discern who gets the vote.  Put aside our political leanings and really very carefully, prayerfully and consciously consider what actually needs to happen.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

May they be one

In today's world which is riven by divisive and abusive behaviours that tear societies apart Christ's prayer for the disciples should have enormous meaning for the average Christian.  The problem with this is that we tend to interpret the text (Jn 17.20-26) as referring to the Church and its multitude of denominational choice.  Christ is praying for the disciples and it is known as being part of the "High Priests prayer".  The result of this is that we apply it purely to the "Church" and see our differences within the various denominational structures and pray for reconciliation.  There is no problem with this view and indeed having recently had dealings with the Eastern Orthodox churches I am convinced that this applies to all parts of our Churches, including the many separate denominations within the Orthodox Church as much as in the Western Church.  I suppose it just goes to show that each of us have a different taste / style / setting when it comes to our liturgy and belief systems. Another tendency is for us to see it from an individualised perspective.  From this point of view the prayer of Christ that we may be one suggests the sublimation of our individuality into a unity of sameness which is also not the intention.

Given this it is all the more reason to pay particular attention to this passage from outside of the "church".  Last week I wrote about looking at things with a 'both ... and' attitude rather than an 'either ... or' attitude (Peace in our time) which is in a manner of speaking linked to this post.  It is about changing our thinking from an attitude that is centred on the self to one that is centred on the other.  Unfortunately, we have inherited a manner of thinking about ourselves that comes out of Greek philosophy and a predominant Western philosophical thought process that arises out of Descartes' famous 'I think therefore I am' statement.  This paradigmatic statement has rendered our thinking into a self centred one, which has influenced our theological thought, our scientific thought and our philosophical thought (although this is changing slowly).  We have also applied this way of thinking to how we interpret the various Gospel passages. a problem when we realise that the Gospel was written using a different philosophical view, Jewish, prior to the full impact of Greek philosophical thought becoming a part of our interpretive process.

Ubuntu - I am because we are and we are because I am (FRIDA: Young Feminist Fund)

The Christian paradigm as opposed to the alternative self-centred approach is set out in the book of Acts in the Jail earthquake story (Acts 16.16-24).  I want my profit compared to the community built in jail by Paul and his companions looking out for everyone including the jailer. More importantly how the community at the start of the 'church' based on how they helped each other (Acts 4.32-35).  This almost communistic manifesto of care for the poor is a reflection of the Middle Eastern and many other cultures focus on the Community as the centre of attention.  The community focus is embedded in many indigenous cultures and their corresponding values and philosophies.  The concept embedded in the Zulu "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" is one that is found in many cultures outside of Africa but is now known more generally by the word Ubuntu.  The Ubuntu concept has been widely researched and thought about in recent decades, since Desmond Tutu utilised the concepts within his theological and Christian practice.  Everyone who comes across the term wants to know what it means but it cannot be directly translated.  The general concept is in the formulation "I am because we are; and We are because I am" or if you want a Descartian translation 'I am therefore we are / We are therefore I am'.  This sort of philosophy is found in the circle sentencing courts and the Aboriginal understanding of kinship within the group (Basic precepts of Aboriginal spirituality) as well as in the Native American concepts of justice and healing.  It evokes an understanding of the person as a valued member of the community who understands that their contribution is for the greater good of the community not just their own selfish wants and needs.

This sort of thinking means that we put our community relations up there in our decision processes not just a reflection of our own wants.  The fact that Christ prays for us to be one suggests that we ourselves need to see our individual lives as contributing towards the well being of the community. In much the same way Christ put others before his needs.  In living our Christian faith out to this paradigm we circumvent the wants of our own self, subjugating them to the needs of the wider community.  This enhances the community rather than ourselves and our grasping for wealth / fame / power.  It is the community's need that is foremost in our minds by enhancing the community's well being we enhance our own.  This is what it means to be and act as a Christian in the world.  A selfless view that enhances our relationships and the community that supports us in our time of need.  I wonder if we will remember that when we vote or participate in the political process or will we look out for our own lives and not care for those who have greater needs in the community.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Peace in our time

Christ leaves his disciples his peace (Jn 14.23-29) a peace that we say 'is past all understanding'.  This sort of peace is also found in the images of Revelation and the New Jerusalem that St John describes (Rev. 21.22-).  In the world around us we often fail to realise this sort of peace and more often then not we have situations that are the direct opposite of this Peace that Christ leaves for us and his disciples.

Whether you like him or not Donald Trump actually said something very interesting the other day when speaking about foreign affairs.  He made the point that a lot of the increasingly divided geo-politics of the Middle east is a result of the imposition of a form of government on people who were not looking for it.  There is perhaps some truth here or rather a discussion that we need to engage in to determine our own views and determine our actions from a Christian faith point of view.  Let us take a long view of Christian history and development to show that this point is essentially correct.  In doing this we need to go back to not only the beginning of the spread of the Christian message but can go back even further to see essentially the same or similar scenario developing within the human experience.  Put simply we can say that whenever a viewpoint has been forced upon another then there is a rise in conflict and distress within populations.  Let us look at the Jerusalem Synod with the discussions centred on circumcision or the later Trinitarian discussions.  Perhaps we can look at our early interactions with the Muslim faith and the Crusades, or perhaps the Inquisition.  Of course we can discern a somewhat similar pattern in the America's let alone the colonisation of countries and cultures.  Do we need to go on?

This is the continual to and fro between dualistic opposites that is reflective of our understanding of the world around us.  What then should the Christian and indeed what should be humanities outlook given this tendency to look at everything in a dualistic frame?  We always say that there are two sides to every problem without really understanding that although there may be two sides to the problem it takes a third to form the solution.  Instead of advocating for this side or that side, which is what the majority of us do, we need to be saying what could be done if it was this and that rather than this or that.  By imposing 'this' view on 'that', which produces a discord, as we have missed the opportunity presented to us that would bring harmony.  Look at the current situation in Syria, a peace process which is centred on bringing the various sides together is falling apart as each side is failing to accept a new way of looking at the whole.

Only by accepting some of the other in our selves do we come into harmony and peace.

Christ knew that any change within a society or a group will cause dissension and discord as the many views grate on each other.  Just look at some of the other phrases in this section of the Gospel that relate to persecution and disharmony whilst Christ prays for harmony.  The peace that Christ brings is the perspective of unity and harmony within our lives.  For us to attain this type of understanding we have to be rebellious and chuck out the main style of thinking that we have inherited, not just from the enlightenment period, but going back to Greek philosophy,  This is the challenge that the Christian community faces in the modern world.  So much of our thinking is based on opposing and polar opposites that we are unable to conceive of the alternative.

All good negotiations, whether in business or in politics or in the Church, must be prepared to find a win-win situation.  That is we must enable ourselves to give here in order to gain there so that the outcome, which may not be what we would like, is at least something that all can live with in harmony.  Looking at the once again growing crisis in Syria and on our borders with the closure of Manis Island, all I see is posturing and negative, divisive stances from both sides. Even I dare say it from those who are protesting.  The attitudes held are with regards to their own point of view, which may be extremely laudable, however what is needed here is the way to Christ's peace in the world.  A  way that leads to harmonious living that honours the other while not debasing our own view.

Having said all this the question arises: How do we manage this?  Dare I say it! We must be radical in our thinking and rid ourselves of the drive we have inherited to think in terms of opposites; man vs woman, lion vs lamb. black vs white.  The peace of Christ which passes all understanding comes from within ourselves as we seek to harmonise our thinking and feelings with those who are different from us in belief, colour, viewpoint, etc.  Christ accepted all and if we follow within the Christian tradition as Christ followers not as dogmaticians, institutionists, Churchers, but as CHRISTians.  That means swallowing our own instincts and moving in to a world view that encompasses all of creation and all of the diversity inherent in humanity as God's image.  Only by using both this and  that thinking as opposed to the accepted either this or that thinking will we achieve Christ's peace.  The place Christ's peace is to be found is in the empty space between this or that, a place that is beyond all understanding as we never go there.