Sunday, 27 November 2016

Living in expectant hope

A this time of year we begin our journey as Christians towards a celebration of the incarnation.  As with all beginnings we begin with hope, a hope for better things, an expectation that the world will be better afterwards, a surge towards something that will be tangibly changed in our lives.  Isaiah begins our journey with a call to the people of God to 'walk in the light of the Lord' (Is. 2.5).  This is an extraordinary call, not only for the people at the time but for Christians in today's world, as it calls us onto a journey that extends far into the future that is filled with the completion of our own desires and hopes for a better life.

Indeed, all the reading from scripture that are set in the common lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent were designed to bring a sense of hope to the people for whom they were written.  We can ask for ourselves what is this hope that these writers are trying to express? and perhaps more basically, for ourselves what is hope?  In a world that appears to have lost much of its meaning both politically and from a religious/philosophical point of view one wonders what the future holds?  This can of course lead us into despair which looking at the calls of social media and media itself, would be the way that many are thinking.  The rise of those who see no reason not to exploit either others or the things of the world for selfish gain leads to a rise in this despairing.  Yet at the start of the Christian new year we are given a glimpse of something glorious, something that has meaning for us and should have meaning for our own communities in which we live.  Hope is an intangible, a vague glimpse of something to strive for within a world that has dark clouds that stretch from horizon to horizon.

A candle in the distance brings hope to the lost

All hero mythologies are at their most basic  stories of mythic hope in the face of despair and hopelessness.  We only have to think of Tolkien, Sanderson, Kay, etc and their heroic trilogies for a sense of this.  We can of course go back even further to Arthurian style or even Norse mythology to see the same glimmer of hope being pursued by the hero.  In the Christian manner we are all heroes within our journey. We are all drawn by the hope that the Christ spark brings that is on the horizon of our future.  Hope is not generated from the past, we cannot and should not dwell in the myths of the past seeking for the solution of our present.  It is the call from the coming Christ the future that is visioned by Isaiah and found in our walking in the light of God that creates our journey's purpose.

If we allow our past to be our hope then we have failed to see the coming Christ and we dwell only on the incarnation, preparing for an emptiness that has come and gone.  Our celebrations are a celebration of what has been and looking to the hope that is generated by Christ's call into the future.  If we leave out the hope of what is to come we then spiral into the debauchery that Paul in writing to the Romans (13.13) decries.  Indeed if we look at our collective celebrations at Christmas this is what we presume rather than the celebration that comes with a knowledge of the call into the future.  The incarnation becomes for us a signpost into a new future, a signpost that is a call from the future into the past.  A call that recalls us into a newness that brings us into Christ's present.  It is only from seeing that spark of hope in the far distance that enables our ministry in the present and draws us along our faith journey towards the coming Christic presence.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The centre of our lives

Christians today celebrate the Reign of Christ or in non PC language Christ the King.  In recognising the change in terminology we recognise that occasionally we fail to confront the reality of our purpose.  Kingship was supposed at Christ's crucifixion (Lk. 23.38) as a recognition of leadership within the world view of the time.  The reign of Christ softens this leadership view to an overarching 'feel good' setting that is being achieved through implied, not direct, leadership as in 'King' (too patriarchal for some).  In deed it is time to move beyond our designations and our self perceived interpretations of words to mark the occasion by a concrete change in our lives.  All of these perceptions are fueled at heart by our own choices that are centred on our selves.  The first and original sign of this brokenness in scripture is the self aligned choice to deny God and seek self benefit through the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Such a self centred approach is seen within the whole animal kingdom through a paradigm of survival (if I do not share I gain power, authority, and health within the tribe / pride / group), think cuckoo. Some of us cannot face this originary moment by naming it but rather would look for ameliorating words to skirt the issue blinding us to our own propensities.  Christ's Kingship asks us to turn this on its head.

The predator is no longer predator when he gives up his self interest.

The Christian journey towards a more catholic approach to life that is inclusive, non-discriminatory, life affirming and joy giving begins at baptism when we ask parents and Godparents to affirm that their child will be brought up rejecting 'selfishness'.  A profound life giving choice.   All young (human and others from the animal kingdom) have an in built mechanism that is centred around their own, well justified, selfish needs and will let the parent know in no uncertain terms what they require.  Our hardest task as Christians is to overcome this 'survival' trait as we tend to be "egocentric, narrow-minded, mimetic creatures" (Illio Delio).  In life we tend to retain this trait as our society demands it of us through consumerism, dualistic either / or thinking and the winner takes all attitudes.  In choosing this route, as shown throughout the journey of scripture, we close our hearts and minds to those who are trying to form community around us.  We build our own prisons and hells, our own disgruntlement and dissatisfaction, and our own separateness from God's presence through our closed mind and heart attitude that centres on our self contentment.  This is our choice.

Parents and godparents make the choice for the child to become like Christ, at baptism, trusting them to bring the child to an affirmation of this choice later in life.  In baptism, we place Christ at the centre and ask parents and Godparents to raise their child with a Christ centred attitude.  What does this look like in the modern world?  To start with it means that we need to begin by acknowledging that we are all self focused and not relationship focused.  By making this acknowledgement we turn away from the building of walls around our opinions, views, actions and begin to engage in life giving relationships with each other.  We centre love, justice, peace, mercy and compassion in those relationships.  By making those choices in the present we enact Christ's reign and begin to create a new future that has an open mind and heart.  We are then able or rather enabled to identify and join with Christ emerging in our midst on social media, at the football game or at a concert.

In baptism, we are reminded to turn away from all that is evil but if we think deeply about it evil arises out of our choices, our choices towards the self rather than towards the other.  In celebrating Christ this day we need to make a choice towards the other.  An enabling choice that opens our hearts and our minds, to bring joy into the world through our relationships with the other.  This only occurs when we allow the Christ to lead us in the authority of 'Kin(g)ship' so that Christ's reign becomes complete in our lives.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Coping with apocalypse

Shock, panic, horror and surprise.  These are the reactions that the majority of pundits and people through out the world greeted the realisation of Donald Trump's ascendancy to President-elect.  These are the same or similar to the emotions which are clearly depicted in the passage from Luke's gospel as Christ talks about the future (21.5-19). The emotions of people who look into an uncertain future caused by the disruption of expectation.  Yet from all accounts these results could have been predicted as some indeed did.  The emotions arise from our uncertainty as to what the future holds when such an enormous change occurs within our own lives and we need to remind ourselves of a number of things that arise out of our own faith and our own beliefs.

In determining our expectations of the future we listen to the opinions and views that we have formed within our own coterie of acquaintance.  The disruption of our expectations throws us out of kilter with a wish to foment equal disruption to what we perceive as being 'the other' in order to somehow bring it back into line with our expectations.  In a manner of speaking this has come about because of an assumption on our part.  We automatically divide everyone into groups and assume that our divisions are held by all, as they are rooted within a common understanding of disenfranchisement, injustice, neglect, etc.  In making this assumption we believe that there are no other divisions within society or the group which matters more than these.  Thus, there are the poor, the refugee, the abused 'woman', the abused child, etc.  Readily agreed marginalised groups yet amongst these groups who are served (well known} injustices there may be others who have a perception of marginalisation and injustice whom we do not readily recognise.  Yet, for those within these groups, the grievance suffered may result in their feelings of marginalisation and should be recognised as such.  Christ calls us into community and that community is in these days marginalised (unrecognised as such).  So within our own 'otherwise' communities why should we be surprised that there are others who feel just as marginalised.  We are called to stand firm within our own faith and part of that standing firm is to ensure all marginalised groups find the justice they seek in a world governed by injustice.

Isaiah grants us a vision of what a world governed by justice looks like in reality (Is. 65.17-25).  It is written in language that is poetic and in a way totally unbelievable to our own methodological / scientific thought pattern.  It is...unbelievable / fantastical...if we allow ourselves to think solely in that manner.  We consistently divide the world into groups and create divisive understandings between those groups.  Thus, we become enslaved to a mentality that reflects into the world an us vs them categorisation of our surroundings.  In doing so we create for ourselves the marginalised groups that we can then run to aid to fulfill the demands of justice, love, etc.  In the world of the poetic vision of Isaiah the groups all of sudden become inconsequential and blurred. Rusty Schweikart, one of the Apollo mission astronauts prior to the moon landing, described his last day in orbit:

"And now you're well into the last day. And you find yourself just looking. Drifting over that very familiar piece of geography that we call the Middle East. And you're looking down at this, and suddenly it hits you that there are no boundaries. Every time you have seen this before, from the time you were a child, there were always lines. And you realise there are no lines. The lines do not exist. Lines only exist because we hold them in our mind as existing. Then you realise, at that instant, that people are busy killing each other over those imaginary lines."

Just as we create economic and political boundaries so we also create boundaries within our own lives to the detriment of society as seen in the vision of our faith.

Where are the divisions / boundaries / borders in the world?

Is it a surprise than that we are frightened by an uncertain future? We are caught by our own self created blindness as to what to expect from the future. In walking with the 'other', who are different to us (in thought, word and deed), we are called to open our hearts in love, open our minds to their visions and open our wills to a common understanding of what is more than our own prejudices and self imposed barriers.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

For all the saints

Who are our saints?  Each year we celebrate and commemorate the festival of All Saints on the first of November but who are the saints that we are celebrating?  I suspect that most of us will look back through his/her-story and suggest the many heroes of the faith that are recognised by all of us, the St George's and the Mother Theresa's, the recognisably good people.  Those whom we have elevated into a semblance of sainthood because of their good deeds or their martyrdom for their faith.  Each and every country I am sure have these figures that are elevated above the normal.  Yet, all of these have their saint's days, days on which we celebrate their lives, yes sometimes clumsily all con-joined on the one day in some fashion but each individually recognised.

In the early church it was recognised that those who followed in Christ's footsteps where the 'saints' (Phil. 1.1 and elsewhere). So where are all the saints of today, they are the ones who are part of the Body of Christ worshipping this day in love and celebrating the saints not realising that is ourselves that we celebrate.  It is the ones who persevere in their faith journey and hold up the light of Christ to the community in which they live who are being celebrated this day, not the rich and famous but the low and infamous. Luke's gospel in some ways highlights this in his version of the Beatitudes (Lk. 6.20-31), which praises the lowly and brings shame on the mighty.  No matter how we read this passage it perhaps highlights for us the pros and cons of our own attitudes and how we need to go about being the incarnation of the saints down through the ages today.

Let all the saints add their voice of truth and disrupt the comfortable.

This twisted passage that seems to heap damnation on those who have it and bring blessings on those who have nothing is an elementary lesson in comportment for us as modern saints.  It is when we are rich with the world's luxuries that we forget who we are and who we are committed to becoming.  Our happiness becomes but a fleeting joy to be dashed away by the first hint of difference and misunderstanding within our relationships.  It is rather when we are in need of others attention, the love of others, the relationship that slips our grasp that we come close to enjoying God's presence.  This is because we become attentive to those around us, we listen to their story and we form our relationship as they walk beside us and we become part of them. When we are at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are comfortable, well fed and enjoy our extra time to indulge our senses and our sensibilities.  In doing so in our age, for that matter any age, we forget that their are others in need and it is only when we are confronted by the necessity to forage for ourselves that we become aware of desperation in others.  We are not well equipped to be thrown out of our well paying jobs and our good lifestyles.  We are unable to form relationships that aid us and fulfil us while struggling to fulfill our needs.  Is this not what we have become as a worshipping community, ones who have been cast out to fend for themselves within a wider world that is fighting for its community?  Those who have struggled to feed themselves and others are those that form community around themselves and help others on their upward journey.

This twisted reversal is best seen perhaps in the last of the 'blessings' / 'curses' (Lk. 6.22-23, 26). These lines remind us that as truth sayers into our communities we will be derided and abused.  Those who are comfortable and well off wish only to hear the soothing things not the disruptive words of truth.  We need only look at the Climate change debate, it is those who sow platitudes who are held up but the truth sayers are the ones who are brow beaten into submission and closed own.  Or even the immigration issue.  We are comfortable when we hear words of comfort but woe betide those who tell the disruptive truth for this we will crucify them.  We asked to bear Christ's cross wit him and we cannot do that if we believe the convenient truths rather than the disruptive call of God.