Monday, 27 February 2017

Fact(ory) outlet or Education for the future

I have been encouraged by the intelligent engagement displayed by some children regarding our current educational system.  It should not be surprising in this day and age to find teenagers and young people expressing concern around how and what we appear to consider to be education in a world that is hyper-connected and has obviously moved beyond early nineteenth century enlightenment thinking.  We are now in the twenty first century and yet our educational system is designed for a burgeoning manufacturing society that expects its citizens to work as modules slotted into a productive mould. This complaint is not new and can be found through many media sites both social and undoubtedly educational.  It is however not the only system that appears to be firmly based in the early nineteenth century or earlier.

Societies have moved on from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Today we embrace a connectivity that is not local but international.  Thoughts from Australia are validly spread to all corners of the globe within moments and yet our educational systems appear to have stagnated in a time of letter writing and communication times that were months rather than milliseconds.  Teachers appear to be immersed in a world where they are expected to churn out non-thinking robots who have the intelligence to pass a standard test but cannot operate within a complex interconnected society.  I constantly hear that the way to decrease youth disenfranchisement and violence is education.  Yet, the education on offer does not assist the youth to become engaged in their society but rather in a make believe historic setting.  The education system has not embraced changing societal norms and has chosen to remain in the past with the connivance of the 'expert' educators, politicians and lastly but certainly the most misinformed, the public  It is of interest to note that some public companies are demonstrating this need to change by not requiring high matric marks (A level, school leaver graduates) or University degrees in preference for other criteria when looking for employees.  Unfortunately, the education system in many countries not having done so now needs to seriously re-think education following two hundred years of societal change in expectations.

We may have changed our equipment (or not) but have we changed our future?

The education system is perhaps the most pervasive system that stands out as being in need of changing from a Fact(ory) outlet to something that is reflective of the needs of a changing public and society.  Religious institutions fall well into the same category and those of us who are even vaguely religious need to feel shame as to what has been offered up by educational and faith centres as fulfilling the call of God upon our lives.  The scathing criticism offered by the Catholic Bishop of Parramata regards the institution of the Catholic church is a glimpse of a Spirit driven insight.  Irrespective of your denomination or indeed your religion it is time that we need to re-consider our time worn methods of connecting and showing God's love to God's people.  So often in parishes and centres of faith the concern of the moment is a 'stage' or the position of a 'pew' rather than the communities needs.  If, we are followers of a faith, than we have a duty to ensure that our children are educated not only in their faith journey but in their journey through life as the two are entwined and cannot be separated.  If we cannot engage our young people within there life journey how can we expect to engage them within their own faith journey.

Christ said 'suffer the little children to come to me' and 'if you place a stumbling block in front of them than you are the one who is condemned.'  We are doing the latter with our educational systems that are based in the past.  We are also doing the same thing with how we undertake our parish ministry often times binding ourselves to burdens that should have been laid aside a long time ago.  At what point do we start to recognise within our Educational system and our Ecclesial system that the world has moved forward two or more centuries (in deed longer for the Church) since they were put in place as new.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Challenge and change in our lives

The human being is under constant strain as each person changes on a daily basis in small and large ways.  These changes may be a simple as re-newing our skin each day or the more complex mental and social changes that come with the break up of a partnership.  So often at moments of stress with the implications of change to our perceptions narrow down and focus on anything we can think of to become an anchor (Matt 17.4).  Individuals and organisations all respond in similar ways by re-casting a new foundation that stops the change process and builds a new structure that can bring comfort and solace.

Social change is inevitable as we continue to adapt to our burgeoning knowledge and competencies in new technologies.  This creates instability within our lives as can be seen for example by changes to the energy sector in Australia.  Those who presumed that their livelihoods were in a sense guaranteed by the resource sectors burgeoning profit have become uncertain in the face of changing economic realities and the global impetus towards a sustainable energy future.  There is now a vacuum in which people are existing attempting to find some solidity to their future and the future energy needs of a burgeoning society.  The mountaintop experience drops into this vacuum announcing the possibilities of a new future and hope.  In such circumstances the new vision / hope is subsumed into a twisted reality that falls back onto known ideals and systems that have served over decades becoming fixated in a manner that does not allow for the hope expressed to become realised.

The mountain top gives us a fleeting look at the way ahead

In the purview of religious and faith structures the same thing happens and we have a tendency to be like Peter grasping for the familiar in a new and changing landscape.  In keeping with all moments of transfiguration or change the moment is fleeting and disruptive.  The sudden understanding that this, whatever this is, is a momentous moment that has an lasting impact upon our lives. It leaves us drifting with no anchor and a need to find ourselves in a familiar a haven.  The mountain top experience is a liminal space and place that is unique in that it brings to the fore a glimpse of the hope for the future yet centering it in the uncertainty of the present. That hope is now our centre, a vision that needs to come into reality within our lives as we cement it into a new way of being / doing / thinking.  Our challenge is to see the hope made reality rather than an anchor in the past to subsume the hope.  The disciples are looking for an unchanged reality that they can cope with and are familiar with, rather than to formulate a new understanding based on the hope that they have seen.

The hope that appears in the mountain top experience is not necessarily something that manifests immediately.  Just look at the disciples it was years before they realised that hope and only after the resurrection.  The experience is but a signpost and something that invigorates us for the next part of the journey.  Showing us that hope is present it is not something that needs to be grabbed but rather it is something that needs to be followed.  It is a breaking into the present of an intimation of the future requiring us to acknowledge it and act upon that knowledge to bring about the hope that has been expressed.  There are as many downs before the fulfillment of the hope as there are ups towards it.  However, if we cling to the familiar we will never move into the future journey that brings us so much joy, laughter and love.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Live by the law or by the principle

While writing this, it is interesting to hear the news on the radio.  It is filled with news of increased contributions to war, violence and detention whether in Australia or in the US.  Indeed, listening to the radio recently retired Justice Michael Kirby was explaining the difference between detention and imprisonment, the former the purview of the executive while the latter is the legislative.  Australia is skating towards the interference of the executive in the dealings of the legislative side with its detention policies negating the underlying principles.  All of these discussions arise out of how we start our viewing of challenges in the world and in relationships.  Our initial viewpoint is always from a legislative or legal view.  If not careful as we do this we become legalistic and narrow in how we approach life.  We see only one road forward that leads to confrontation or legalistic action.  Looking at Leviticus (19.1-2,9-18) and Matthew's gospel (5.38) this is the initial perception of our scriptures.  Often it appears to be the only perception of our scriptures, especially when we come to topics that raise fear and uncertainty (see recent debate in the English Synod).

Our Christianity and the God we follow as people of faith would seem to imply the opposite of this legality.  We all promote a God of 'LOVE' rather than of division and law, so how is it that we find ourselves in this position?  Is this our default position because we are unable to handle the complexities of human relationship without the law or is it simply because we are to lazy to work at being a Christian? Perhaps, in a manner of speaking, this vexed question lies behind Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and the instruction manual of the Sermon on the Mount which we so often mis-interpret so that our laziness can continue.  Paul enjoins us to build ourselves as being the temple of God's presence on earth (1 Cor. 3.12-17), on the foundation of Christ.  The foundation of Christ is a foundation of love in action as seen through the eyes of those who have witnessed to God's presence in their lives.  If we build up our lives as showing a strong ethic of love and the building of relationships that are lasting, then it is highly likely that our communities are going to grow into ones that are mutually supportive and integrated.  No matter how harsh the political / societal backlash is the building of relationship and mutual respect / love is likely to survive.  It is where this mutuality is non-existent and/or built on false motives / emotions that it is liable to collapse into divisive anarchy that is solely governed by legalistic action (1 Cor. 3.12-14).

Do we want to blind everyone by taking an eye for an eye?

The legal battle for retributive justice is seen in the classic legal argument that Christ states at the beginning of the reading from the Sermon on the Mount; 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' (Matt. 5.38).  This is how proponents in our courts and our governments act through out the world.  If someone or something has done a wrong against me / the country / the people then there is a demand for the proverbial pound of flesh.  But as Portia states in Shakespeare the 'quality of mercy is not strained...It is an attribute to God himself.' (Act 4 Scene 1) and then, just like everyone else, goes on to take every small bit of flesh out of Shylock's hide the law allows.  She does not even act with sufficient mercy to allow him a drop of blood, Jewish blood that is (Act 4 Scene 1 'He presently become a Christian'). No mercy here, just like our courts of law and nations.  Each time this occurs we stand on the side lines and cheer, hopefully, knowing in our hearts that Christ would turn away in shame as he has given us the means of showing unconstrained mercy. Christ in Matthew's gospel leads us to restorative justice and an ability to become a true pacem facere (pacifist / peacemaker) by looking at the underlying principles of relationship making.  A re-turning to a new relationship by giving oneself to our neighbour, so utterly that there is nothing else to give.  Putting aside our hurts to find and absolve the hurts in the other and so turn our wrath into peace.  A peace that begins to pervade our communities with justice and listening for Christ.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Living for love

In a world dominated by pain and hurt, in a world that sees neighbour pitted against neighbour, in a world that seems to be spiralling down into chaotic individualism what hope does the simplicity of Christ's message have for us today?  We often seem to see our scriptures as places of aspiration and ways of living that are really pie in the sky dreaming.  Theologians and preachers have a tendency to analyse everything that is written in the scriptures and in some respects over analyse the writing both style and content.  For why? Well to get to the crux of God's message, to deliver the good news and show the Christian life.  I often wonder, in my simplicity, are we asking and delving too much sometimes.  Creating our own spin to bring about highs of aspirational wonder like some drug induced ecstasy that gives us a moment of feeling good but does not really change anything.  Let us look at the section from Christ's sermon (Matt 5.21-37) twinned with Paul's Corinthian masterpiece, or at least part, (1 Cor. 3.1-9).

I think the first thing to remember is that when Christ spoke and Paul wrote there were no theologians dissecting what was said.  Paul was writing to an average congregation of the time, quite possibly something like any congregation today.  From the opening of this letter we are aware of tension within the congregation, which could perhaps be considered similar to a tension created by followers of say Barth opposed to Balthasar or Evangelical congregants vs Catholic members.  The congregation as Paul acknowledges are well versed, intellectually, in the new Christian faith.  Yet, for Paul, seeing in from the outside, he only sees followers who are like children rather than those who are mature in their faith journey.  Today, we often associate intellectual prowess with a certain maturity of thought and action, perhaps very similar to the Corinthian congregation.  Paul only sees children and in teaching them at this point he uses a story, a parable, just like teaching children.  Suggesting in the story that seeds planted and watered, irrespective of who does the planting and watering (evangelical or catholic) it is God who does the growing.  It is not for us to debate what we are aware of intellectually rather it is for us to allow God to work within our lives so that we live as Christ in love and respect for each other.

Peace and tranquility only comes with working on our own attitudes

Remembering that we are only human, this is hard but something that Christ talking to a bunch of illiterate people on a hillside demonstrates a possible solution to this very issue.  Typically, as intellectuals, we dissect the Sermon that Christ gives and come to the conclusion that these are ideals; these aphorisms that Christ lays out.  We focus on ideals rather than on something that may well be simple, practical instructions given to simple, practical people.  Christ gives a prime example in the first few verses of this piece of scripture (Matt. 5.21-26) as he starts with the commandment regarding murder.  If we think of the verses (Matt. 5.21-22) we might think that vs. 22 is a bit idealish to say the least, we are only human.  Calling a person a 'fool' gets us into even more trouble than murder!!  Christ calls some one a fool in the Gospels!! (Matt. 23.17). Let us stop and think a little such as a person might without much theology.  If our anger or indeed any of our emotions, gets out of hand and is either hidden away or aroused beyond control what could result?  Could we think of a number of jealous acts that end in murder or an angry road rage that ends in death?  If so can we believe that there is a possible solution to this self fulfilling circle that leads inevitable at some point to death or injury?  The answer or a solution is given in the following verses.  A rebuttal of the circular and a path towards forgiveness and love.  A way of living that increases our hold on peace rather than anger and war, that increases our love for each other instead of expanding hatred and violence.  A cooperative way that, yes, is hard but creates community rather than dividing.  Taken into the wider world the violence of war and bickering in local politics would tend to decrease.  Here is an ideal; what would happen in opposing political factions actually sat down and listened to each other rather than tearing apart each others thoughts?  Could a more judicious and peaceful society be created?  The Christian faith journey is about building the capacity for love and peace if we were only to listen rather than act on our emotions; live into compassion and love rather than fueling anger and disappointment.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Hope for all

Today, we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the temple in some calendars the final day of Christmas as a season.  I am not sure that anyone has really paid attention but since Epiphany all the readings have reflected the outward movement of the Christian faith, starting with the presentation of the Magi and today SImeon's far reaching prophesy (Lk. 2. 30-32).  All to often in the social environment of today Christians are forced to clam up and not speak for fear of ridicule and being shut down. Yet throughout this Epiphany season we have been encouraged by the hope that the Gospel brings to all people not just the chosen few.

What has happened to the Christian faith and those of us who proclaim or rather live the Christian life, such that we have become tarred with a brush of unwholesomeness?  We can perhaps point fingers at distant ancestors of the faith and suggest that the super-secessionist  ideas of the Christian believers becoming the chosen people and replacing the older Judaic faith are to blame.  Or maybe it is how the Christian faith believers utilised the economic power of their countries to become almost militaristic in mission forcing unwanted beliefs onto others.  It seems no matter what the cause it is always the Christian faith that appears now to stand down and take second, third or even last place in its influence within our society today.  It often appears as if the Christian faith and all those who are part of the religious structures are to blame for most of the ills in life as a result the genuine Christian voice is marginalised and  / or unwanted within the discourse of the era.

In a way we are ourselves to blame as we have allowed our own authority structures to become power structures that are envied and thus open to attack.  Our hope that Simeon speaks of  being a 'light that will bring revelation to the Gentiles' is based on weakness not power and authority.  All those who are encouraged to speak out in society are perceived to be weak and marginalised (LGBT community, Women, Muslims and other religious inc. atheism, etc).  It is no wonder that those that are perceived to have authority are prevented from putting across their view.  Everyone knows their view, so why should we need to hear it, it is after all the predominate view.  In any case those proclaiming it are often hypocritical rather than genuine.  This is depressing to hear but then truth often is until we can find the hope in the message of the Gospel.

The gossamer wing of hope is difficult to catch

Christ is prophesied by Simeon to be the light to the Gentiles.  We must presume that that light is one that is carried within our hearts so that we can faithfully proclaim God's presence within the society in which we live.  Unfortunately for us we have to rise to a greater proof than those around us as by the efforts of those in the past our lives have been thrust into the limelight of public criticism.  We have been given a message of redemption to proclaim through the very lives that we live.  We need to recognise that the hope that we proclaim is a hope that is lived out within our own interactions with all people.  It is we who must set the highest example of hope in the lives of our communities by accepting all peoples for the gifts that God gives to them irrespective of who they may be. We need to overcome our own tendencies, tendencies of all those who are depressed, to seek out facts that fan our own uncertainties rather than those that grant us hope. In our own uncertainties we need to look for the sparks of hope in our communities and fan them into blazing fires that draw others into the flame of God's Spirit.  In this way we blaze as lights to the world and become a genuine beacon to our communities that despair.