Sunday, 28 August 2016

Our Expertise or God's leading

In life we often  can achieve the our goals through hard work and believe that we have arrived when we our considered by others to have a certain amount of knowledge.  However, sometimes and quite often in a faith setting, our knowledge becomes a hindrance and is often not conducive to a happy and sustainable community. In life we are often honored for our knowledge and we allow this honour to become part of our expectations in all of life's settings not just in the situation in which our knowledge is recognised.  In Luke Christ warns against this type of behaviour using the illustration of a banquet (Lk. 14.7-14).

We can see this happening in all walks of life as people position themselves into places so that they can achieve power, authority and often at the end of the day notoriety. It is difficult for us not to promote ourselves within an economy that values those who are deemed to be 'expert'. (I am always reminded of the old definition of an expert which goes something like this. X = an unknown quantity, Spurt = water under pressure, a drip = an unknown quantity of water, hence expert = a drip under pressure).  Of course in any discourse that involves the subject matter that is the provenance of the 'expert' it is the purpose of the person to have their knowledge acknowledged and thus their view predominate.  In academic discourse this is part of the rough and tumble of academia and is carried out through conferences and forums that the various 'experts' attend.  In everyday life such behaviour tends to lead to cliques, clubs and politics.  We can see where that leads to as there is a tendency for those groups to use hierarchical power, the 'expert' at the top, as a means to stop conversation and deny the voice of the other.

Do we consider ourselves as being 'experts' in relationships?

In the faith setting this sort of self proclamation becomes an issue as there is a tendency to once again form us vs them cliques.  This can be clearly seen in an over exaggerated form in the issues in Northern Ireland regarding Protestant and Catholic.  In this over exaggerated case the situation devolved into violence in much the same way that the extreme fundamentalist does in any religious setting.  In the parochial setting the result may not be as vicious, in terms of physical violence, but is just as bad in terms of relational violence.  We often do not appreciate the violence that is generated as quite often the group as a whole ignores the issue and bows down to a laissez faire attitude that gives permission for the situation to continue without resolution.  Once a 'power base' has been established by the group or individual then this is used to exploit the situation and impose the view of the group/individual on the others within the community.

In many parishes there are Catering groups or Opportunity Shops that are valued as they often bring in a large proportion of the income for the Parish.  These groups tend to attract those who have a tendency for this self promotional style of behaviour.  The 'expert' is often the person who has been around in the group as a leader for an extended period of time and when attempts are made to curtail or align the group to the new direction a community is taking then umbrage, chaos and upset occurs.  Thus, breaking up the communal relationships that have ignored the growing situation as being normal and coming to understand that it is the community that has been 'bullied' into conformance as a result of their reliance on one group or another.  This is accepted and normal behaviour in many groups within modern society.  Yet, Christ offers us another and alternate way of behaviour that does not rely on our self proclamation of expertise and need for power / authority to lord it over others in however small a manner and in however 'irreplaceable' we believe it to be.

We are each of us called into ministry by God at our baptism.  It is God who calls us into the place where we may have some 'expertise' but it is also God who guides and directs us in that ministry.  God is the host who will elevate us into a more prominent position in the light of our peers but it is also God who may decide not to promote us despite what we believe or think of ourselves. Our self recognition as an 'expert' and therefore the right to be heard or even for our viewpoint to be the prevailing viewpoint,  has to be one that is counter intuitive to our desires.  Our behaviours should reflect a viewpoint that believes "Despite my belief of my own self worth, there are others who may be of more consequence than me."  Only when we realise that our own opinions of ourselves do not matter within the community will we begin to recognise that it is our relationships of mutual understanding and love that are of more importance.

It is pertinent for us, especially for those who think that they know more than others or think because they have been doing something forever, to stop and listen to others in the community.  This can not be a single event in the life of a community but an ongoing understanding of ourselves as a community. In doing so we begin to heal the rifts that our behaviours have caused and begin to listen to God's direction of our ministry and not our own self imposed authority.  But remember as soon as we start to think "I was right all along." and vindicate  a position we have held in our own situations, we fall into the same trap. We not called to elevate ourselves for the honour and glory which is fleeting but we are to await God's blessing and call for a more lasting satisfaction and blessing on the community as a whole.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Hypocrites - One and all

In today's world of political correctness we have a tendency for all of us to be hypocrites and thus we have rendered the term pretty well in operative and of no consequence.  In Luke's gospel Christ points out the hypocrisy of the leaders of the synagogue in their complaints about healing someone who was bound (Lk. 13.10-17).  This is a clear cut situation of the term hypocrisy or the pretense of one attitude by upholding another. The terms comes from the Greek term used for acting a theatrical part, in other words pretending to be what you are not like a character on the stage.  This derives from hupo krinein or under decide / judge, in other words you are actually not sure of your position and cannot judge it or decide properly.

We display these characteristics in many ways in today's world and in some circumstances are almost forced into this hypocritical position as a result of our underlying need for political appeasement of all racial / religious / minority groups.  In our search for a just treatment of all groups we tend to come across as hypocritical in some other area or in relationship with some other group.  This can be clearly seen in the passage from Luke's gospel.  The community leaders in the synagogue were absolutely focused on the law and the way it should be upheld.  They saw the actions of Christ as being work and that work is forbidden on a Sabbath.  No issues here.  They immediately started to raise the issue in terms of the requirements of the faith.  In doing so of course they neglected the fact that there is a greater law within the tenets of faith and that is love of neighbour.  Christ points out in the most ludicrous fashion that they do good to their neighbours and fellow inhabitants of the planet by releasing them from their stalls in a similar way he has done for the woman.

The issue is not that they were 'bad' people but that their focus was wrong as they looked at the minutiae of the issue and not at the whole.  The same can be said of the crowd of people in Jerusalem at the moment of the condemnation of Christ.  The majority of whom would have belonged to the Jewish faith and would have been devout, otherwise they would not have been there.  In condemning the innocent and condoning the actions of the corrupt they were setting a double standard as they took a hypocritic stance in terms of their faith.  We do this every single day of our lives and in doing so we continue to condemn Christ to the cross.  We do this as individuals and as faith groups and as a nation or as nations each and every day.  Quite often this is the reason why many do not find mainstream faith communities as relevant for themselves or for society as a whole.

What mask do we present as a faith group? 

To give some hard examples of this that are visible on a daily, if not weekly, basis.  Politics, as the crucifixion demonstrates, is filled with people who take hypocritical stances.  In modern times perhaps the best illustration of this is the Australian government's stance on immigration which is really only a continuation of an ongoing viewpoint that stretches back to the 1960's if not further.  The condoning of 'concentration' camps and the abuse of young people, with a pass the buck attitude, for those who do not enter Australia the way the majority enter whilst being a signatory to various treaties on Human rights. This is an accepted form of hypocrisy in the world of politics, others are condemn while our own abuses are ignored.

All faith communities have inherited credal statements from the beginning of their respective faiths.  I wonder how much credence can be put into these statements in the light of modern academic and secular thought.  In some cases it could be fair to say that many would be turned away from different faiths by their adherence to out dated language and thought.  This holds for all faiths not just Christianity as all faiths that have credal statements accept them as being faith statements.  However, the question to ask is whose faith, mine or someone two thousand years ago, as many would have been formulated in an era very different to the modern one.  It would appear to be incumbent on faith believers to constantly challenge what is stated so that we do not become hypocritical in our beliefs.

On a personal level it is incumbent upon ourselves to ensure that what we promote is not a hypocritical stance.  We can sometimes become so tied up with the perceived injustices of historical and current situations that we neglect our neighbours and cause them hurt.  Christ cam into the world proclaiming a love of all our neighbours not just the select few where we perceive a miscarriage of justice in the past.  It matters little if we promote greater love for Aboriginal peoples, Black Africans, Jews when we spurn Muslims, other Christians and those within our own families.  Just like the leaders in the synagogue we become so tied up with the small events and indiscretions that we miss the larger more important requirement to respect 'all' people irrespective of who they are.

All injustices need to be highlighted and condemned, just as we condemn those that cried out for Christ's crucifixion, however in doing so we must take care that we do not become one with the crowd, as our condemnation begins to create a greater divide.  This is a fine line that cuts both ways but as Christians we are called to tread this line with care and love.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Disruption to find Justice

In a Gospel of love the reading from Luke's Gospel has an enormous disruptive feel to it as Christ tells us he does not come to bring peace but disharmony (Lk. 12.49-).  A disruption that will tear apart relationships within families and communities which is not what we expect from this God of love and peace and harmony.

Yet when we engage with the lament from God over his vineyard in Isaiah (5.1-7) we should begin to see where this disruption occurs in our lives if we are truly living the Christian way. All God is seeking is justice but finds instead bloodshed (Isaiah 5.7). A concept that is so elusive for the human that the judiciary and philosophers struggle to pin it down as it escapes in the blink of an eye.  It comes as a disruptive moment in our lives as we seek to do justice.  The historical list of those are pillars of faith and have journeyed with this concept are outlined in the letter to the Hebrews and finalised  by basically saying the list goes on forever (Heb 11.32).  If we consider our own heroes of the faith or standouts within the faith journey of the modern era we can think of Bishop Trevor Huddlestone, The Arch (Desmond Tutu), Sister Theresa and Michael Lapsley all who have struggled with this elusive concept as they have journeyed in faith.

Only when we start to understand their passion for a loving God and the elusive pursuit of justice in this word can we begin to understand the disruption that this should cause for ourselves.  Yet, we ponder and struggle to overcome our own pet hurts that blind us to the greater call on our lives. We confine ourselves to the irritation of a misleading line in a hymn rather than the actuality of injustice in Palestine.  We concentrate on the tangible of a border forbidding the undesirables from coming and restricting their access while neglecting our responsibilities and the injustices occurring in our name on Nauru and in detention camps.  It is the tangibility of a border or a hymn that calls us rather than the intangible concept of justice calling from the borders of our sovereignty.  Only when we can overcome our own wants and wishes so as to focus on the greater will we begin to work the will of God's call on us.

Justice calls and disrupts our lives.

The claim on us as we make our way on the journey of faith is not in the past but in the present.  In seeking justice we will disrupt our families and our communities as we stir up the complacency of governments and communities.  The Anglican and faith community live by what is known as Lex orandi, lex credendi, or what we say is what we believe.  If this is the case than it is the call for justice that must be lived out by our daily lives.  This is a greater call than a single focus on Jew, Muslim or Sexuality.  Our call is to live acknowledging all as children of God and ignoring the difference that they bring into our lives.  Justice calls to all of us, irrespective of creed, culture or sexuality.  If inspires us to live lives of acceptance that do not dwell on images of the past but build images of the future with hope.  Justice continually calls from the margins of our society not from those living in affluence.  The pursuit of justice calls us into the fray of the dispossessed, the camps and those struggling to survive.  It does not call us to close our hearts and our borders; it does not call us to close our eyes or think only of the past.

If we are to live as faith filled Christians, however small we deem ourselves, we will be at the forefront of disruption as we open the hearts of those closed by comfort and complacency.  Mother Theresa was not a showman or a tele evangelist but a person of large faith and heart who saw injustice and worked towards justice.  For all his flamboyance Archbishop Tutu worked at the coalface of injustice to bring the injustices of apartheid into the light of God's love, not for fame but to honour the call and pursuit of justice that God calls all of faith to. In our comfort and our own lives lived within a society that is consumed by pettiness we are called into the disruptive tear that those who suffer from injustice create as justice calls.  We have seen the blood that flows as a result of injustice in the lives of the abused, are we ready to answer with the salve of love and respond to the call of justice in the world.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Expect the unexpected

In John Caputo's book, 'What would Jesus Deconstruct?', the author outlines Derrida's "least bad" definition of deconstruction one indeed that Caputo himself likes (pg 54). In a nutshell Derrida states that there is a predictable future (a 'future present') and one that is over the horizon of expectancy ('the absolute future') the event that we cannot participate that disrupts our lives; that removes the certainty of our human constructed structures.  In other words, 'There is a future which is predictable...But there is a future to come (l'avenir) which refers to someone who comes whose arrival is totally unexpected.' (Derrida quoted in 'Preaching after God' by Phil Snider, pg. 135). In a very real sense this is what we should be preparing for 'the totally unexpected' when we await Christ.  Christ highlights our preparedness in the Gospel (Lk. 12.32-33) and this need to expect the unexpected (Lk. 12.35-40).

We can prepare for most things today.  We have certain expectancies that in life we can plan for, the future that is made present, as it comes to us in the certainty of our careers, our businesses, our home life and our social calendar.  Not least of all in our taxes and our expenditure that for individuals are things that we can guarantee let alone expect. These are the platforms on which we build our daily lives relying on our past experience and our expectations for the future.  We prepare our purses and our schedules in such a fashion that those things that we know are going to be undertaken do not become mountains or impossible tasks, less we submerge ourselves in misery and despair.  In any form of leadership this is the task that is set before us so that we can lead people into a new or better place or at least maintain a certain level of service / comfort that meets the expectations of those we lead.  However, this also points us towards a status quo, a non movement forward, a non growth of our potential and what could be.  It is when we are driven out of our expectations into new places and new things that we become alive once more, alive to the possibilities inherent in the call to be a follower of Christ, to be a Christian.

The Unexpected Guest - Heather Lara 

In (not)-preparing for the unexpected, because as soon as we prepare it becomes the expected, we need to be flexible and listen for that call that leads us into the new and challenging circumstances that confront us as we take on the risk of faith.  This is not an enviable position to be in as leaders and yet if we answer God's call on our lives this is exactly where we will find ourselves as we seek to bring God's people into conversation with that call.  It is a question of allowing our experiences to be present to us and yet not govern us or the moves that we make.  Too often we allow our past to dictate what the future will bring.  Yes we have an experience that needs to inform our actions but not to dictate them.  In confronting our prejudices and our hurts and our dislikes we often find that it is our past that is dictating how we experience the present and the future.  In not allowing the unexpected to draw us into a new sequence of relationships we die to the possibilities that the Christic event opens in our lives.

We are practical people and our focus is on how to rather than on waiting and responding to the event that disrupts our lives.  In leading the family of God into newness of life we ourselves must be prepared to let go of our own preconceptions of the future.  We need to allow ourselves to be prepared in unpreparedness.  We do not know when the event will occur just as we do not know when the thief will come in the night.  Yet we prepare for the thief without making definite plans as to when and where.  So we prepare for the coming of the event of God's grace in our lives with the understanding that it may never come or it may come this second.  We have to be sufficiently ready to grow and go where God's Spirit may call us without enormous preparations before the time.  If we are called into a new experience of God's abiding presence so we need to be ready to respond with an affirmative that does not deny that experience by locking it down.  Rather we need to be opened up to effectively respond in love to that call.

It is often hard to accept that what we strive for may not be what God wishes for our lives or our institutions.  We may aall be in agreement about where we think God is calling us but then out of nowhere God comes calling and disrupts our planning as Christ appears to us.  It is only in our (un)preparedness and flexibility to accept the Christic event that we move forward in our faith journey.  We need to listen faithfully for God's ever present Spirit as we formulate our life's goals and the goals of our communities.  The call is always there it is when we do not listen and move on our own that GOd's presence is suddenly there changing what we thought to what we ought to do.  Let us always be (un)prepared to accept God's insistent call on our lives.