Sunday, 28 May 2017

Preparing a Martyr

Words change in our life time and some words changed so much that we forget that what we are asked to do by Christ.  In the Acts reading from today we are asked to be witnesses (Acts 1.8) or rather the disciples (students) of Christ are asked to bear witness and by implication ourselves.  Yes, I said students because that was what his followers were, they were discipuli.  Indeed to bear witness is to be a martyr.  Yet, today when we conceive of martyrdom or being a martyr it is something with a bad ending.  Usually stoning, beheading or being burnt or crucified.  Of course for some it meant a multitude of mismanaged attempts to kill the person (See St Cecillia) and usually they have been turned into saints.  Yet, these were witnesses to Christ.  Looking at it from today's world the meaning is transitioning again to mean some form of terrorist.  Often the terrorist is blown up and is by this being a witness to their cause célèbre.

However, in the terminology of the church we often associate witness with a single person standing up either on the street corner with a personal PA unit spouting words about the scriptures.  Often a long winded sermon of their own interpretation or else a single person getting up in a church or worship setting and giving a witness to their life in Christ.  The two do not seem to equate the martyr of the bible and the witness of modern society.  At baptism we are asked to prepare witnesses aka martyrs for the start of their faith journey.  They are to be martyrs for Christ and the parents and godparents are assigned to the duty of preparing their initial journey until they can accept the challenges of the martyrs life.  We are life long disciples of Christ learning, just like students, to interpret that life so that we can be martyrs to Christ and God's love.  Yet if we equate a martyr's life with a modern witnesses life we are starting to loose ourselves in difficulties as the two do not seem to belong together.

Is this really what a martyr is or is it something more?

What have we done wrong?  How can we become so confused as to whether we are to be witnesses or martyrs?  The wrongness is simply corrected when we come to the understanding that there is a cultural shift that we need to account for.  Society today is an individualistic society whilst the society of the early Christians was communal.  This makes an very big difference.  The acts of witness that we speak about are individual not communal but the first thing that the disciples did was to come together as a community in prayer and worship (Acts 1.14).  It is our communal response that makes us martyrs not our individual witness.  It is our communal encouragement of each other to live in Christ that brings the response of outsiders to the unusualness of the Christian community.  In praying and worshiping together as a community we begin to find the joy and love of God in our midst.  In following our individualistic desires we break that communal bond and forever lose our sense of Christ's presence in our lives.  It is in community that we begin to recognise the other and accept the other into our midst, we do not do this individually.  Once we realise the power of living as Christians in community then we begin to understand our power of accepting the other into our own lives.  Community begins with the other not with our individuality.

If we are to form martyrs from baptism we have to ask our parents and godparents to instill this worth of community in the child.  Only when we have children growing up in our midst who reflect a joy of all and are willing to accept others into their midst do we begin to fully appreciate God's gift of grace in Christ.  Only when we are filled with God's grace can we witness bravely and fully so that we are martyrs in the present culture through our difference as a community.  those who lead may be picked out as individuals but it is the community that witnesses over and above the individual.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Following commandments - Lost perspectives

We all have to follow the law and yet we are all on the look out to find ways to evade the law.  We do not like being constrained by the law.  Most especially when we feel that the law encroaches on our own spaces and personal freedoms.  We complain if things are not going our way and really speak out if we feel that a law is unjust, even if it might be quite a good law in itself.  God and Christ give us commandments which we are told that if we love Christ we will obey (Jn. 14.15).  What are these commandments?  Simple really Love God and Love our neighbours as ourselves.  Nothing really problematic about these.  Here comes the rub.  We begin to debate with and amongst ourselves about the interpretation of these two laws.  Who is God?  Is God male or female?  Who is our neighbour?  If my interpretation of God is different to your interpretation of God does this mean that I am loving God better than you and you need to follow my way?  In these very real, to us, questions there is a need to bring in some perspective to deal with the inevitable conflicts but how do we do this when we all argue about interpretation?

God calls us to follow these commandments from our baptism throughout our lives.  In becoming bogged down in interpretation we loose the essence of the command that is given to us.  It is not in the legal definitions and interpretive arguments that we will find our way but rather in changing our perspective.  In making the effort, something that we ask godparents and parents to do for the child, to change our way of thinking will we begin to understand that the following of these two commandments are in fact simple.  We actually need to put away our tendency to look for our advantage and start to see the world from a different view point.  In today's society we have lost the true understanding of being whole, holy, in the sight of God and thus being enabled to follow God / Christ and enact the commandments of love.  Just think for a moment about the injunction to love our neighbour.

Let us change our perspective and do rather than think.

If, we are to look at scripture for inspiration on this one, we may find ourselves bogged down in wondering why, if we are to love our neighbours, is God so violent towards them in the Scriptures? or perhaps if God requires justice and peace in the world why is it that there is so much vicarious violence throughout Scripture?  What is it that we are missing?  Where are we going wrong in this exercise to find inspiration when all we have is violence and more violence with little in the way of the peace and love God commands us too?  This is the true nature of the path that begins with our godparents and parents as they are given the task of instilling their children, those attributes that bring peace and love into the hearts of our society, as they grow up.  We need to see a different world a world that is filled with the essence of our love for anyone and everyone as we share the resources of the world with each other.  The need for our children to see that everyone is the same, creations of and images of God.  It is when we instill prejudice and fear of the other in our children that we perpetuate the violence of our history/herstory.  We do this naturally, which is why the task set for the community and for godparents and parents is so hard.  It is they who are asked to change so that their children will be changed.  If we are asking them to change then we too must change as we offer our support and encouragement for them to live into God's commandments.

In changing our perspective on our own lives we begin to understand the requirements that God is asking of us.  It is not that the law needs interpreting by each individual it is that the law needs enacting by each individual.  It  is as if we have to place the question "what does it mean to me?" on hold and say "How can I perform this in reality?" By looking at the need to take an action we do away with the think and start to do.  We operate out of our wish to see the other in a better place than we are.  In doing this the other starts to look at ways of increasing our well being as they follow the example set for them.  Can we actually start to do rather than think about doing>

Monday, 15 May 2017

Anglican or non-Anglican that is the question

Political debate within the church just highlights to me how far we need to progress towards living in Christ even after all these years.  I have been reading lately a book that criticises the spate of managerialism that is apparent in the Anglican polity, particularly the English church.  At the same time I have also read with interest a recent post with regards to the prospect of a breakaway evangelical Anglican Church.  In both these cases I find that there appears to be a lack, a lack of some form of perspective that says that we are Anglican.  The first example is perhaps not as bad as the second but my underlying issue is the same.  It is an issue that crops up time and time again in all manner of situations and if we belong to the "Anglican" denomination in any form we need to make sure that we are being Anglican.

Anglicanism is a strange denomination in many respects perhaps not least is that it arose in England.  It is generally understood that the trilateral of Anglicanism is Scripture, Tradition and Reason which helps us to come to grips and handle theological dissent of one form or another.  (The more structural side of Anglicanism is founded on the Quadritlateral and the Instruments of Communion not something of interest at the present time.)  These three legs as it were are there to guide our reflections and try to be loving neighbours in as honest a way as is possible when our wants and desires push our neighbour away.  In allowing this to occur Anglicans are constantly in tension with the two ends of a spectrum.  The Catholic end draws us towards a more Catholic understanding of the central focus of the sacramental nature of the church with its rites and liturgical flair.  The Evangelical end draws us towards a literalism in biblical interpretation and a following based on Jesus.  Both ends appeal to various sections of society but the Anglican says "Both ends are true so how do we hold those truths in a manner that honours both."  How does the evangelical Anglican come to understand that the Catholic Anglican has as much truth as do they?

Holding the tension takes effort and is not easy

We are honest with each other and we respect and love each other as neighbours in the true sense.  Frustration from one end of the spectrum because they are not being 'heard' or that they are not getting 'advancement' sounds too much like the attitude of a spoilt and insecure child.  At baptism our Godparents and at confirmation, we, take vows that say "I reject selfish living".  If we are not getting our way and we go of on a rant or a tirade or we are going to split of and form our own Anglican church, is just selfish living on our part.  If we are incapable of working with the tension of the via media of Anglicanism then surely we cannot create a new Church and call ourselves 'Traditional Catholic Anglicans' or 'Evangelical Anglicans'.  In promoting a single view from one end or the other then we need to lose the 'Anglican' because we are not, we become an 'Evangelical' church the same as any other 'Evangelical church'.  Anglicanism implies the middle tension not the extreme ends of our beliefs.

Sometimes when tension is high the elastic breaks, what we need most in the Anglican church at present is a theological voice (and here I agree with my first example) that holds the tension and brings the ends into conversation.  This may mean discerning the voices that can speak from either end and including them in the leadership so that all are 'heard'.  In the tension of relationship that is Anglicanism we so often forget that community is formed by listening to the outside voice and discerning, not adamantly stating, God's calling.  From my view point the stridency of various claims from each end in the Anglican church is an act of selfishness.  Only when we can move away from our cherished and strongly held understandings, do we start to become truly Christ centred.  We put aside our Bibliathan and Jesusian and Incensian selfish understandings and begin to put God where God belongs at the centre of our lives.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Wayfarers or Car drivers?

Have you been on an extended walk anywhere?  On one of the many walking trails found throughout the World, the Cape to Cape perhaps or the Tsitsikama trail or even something a little tamer like the Big Hole track in the Barrington Tops.  All of these trails take meticulous planning and attention to detail.  They all may have their attractions and their difficulties but all of them are well posted and mapped.  They are well trodden trails that a little bit of foresight and planning will keep us on the go and reach our goal.  A little bit of excitement and plenty of beauty.  Just what we want as we walk through life.  For many of us this is what our lives are like, mapped out with little need to do anything just plod along.  Even our Christian and faith lives are much like this, all we have to do is stick to the track and we will be alright, God will meet us at the end.  We are after all known as Christians to be the people of the way, at least earlier in our history.  That is because we followed the Christ as Christ is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14.6).

It was a somewhat bumpy way when we were called that, it was actually quite exploratory, not like the well worn road and tarmac drive that we are accustomed to today.  Indeed, because we have paved and tarred the road for an easier passage, we have actually lost the truth and the life.  We are now on a freeway to nowhere pursuing our own dreams and our own needs without caring too much about the truth.  My daughter came home the other day from doing half the Cape to Cape walk as part of her year 12 syllabus.  Asking her about it she said it was hard but with a big smile on the dial she said "I made it".  How different is that response to the everyday commuter or the person driving from Perth to Mandurah?  This is the difference between our faith journey today and the early faith wayfarers.  Yes, it was still a posted track but for her it was strange and adventurous, something out of the ordinary.  We are happy to plod along the path set for us by those who went ahead.  Yet, God calls us to the truth and the life as we live the way.  In seeking to do this we will be led by God out of the smooth tarmacked roads of today onto the seldom trodden paths that lead us into new life.  They are paths that are not often travelled in this day and age and are quite overgrown so we must watch our step.  They are paths that call us out into the community to proclaim the truth, to proclaim justice and righteousness for all people.

Forging the path that God has called us to

They are paths that call us to centre our lives on Christ and live in expectation of the hope that God's love will be abundant around us.  We will see the beauty of that love in the glimpse of rare flowers that blossom along the way as we discover the way to imbue peace into our community.  It will be seen in the magnificent waterfall of God's grace that will be a sign of his abundant love as we bring truth into the lives of those around us.  It is not an easy journey, it is also not one that many will flock to and it is a journey that is undertaken with the knowledge that our own resources will be sufficient because God will fill our lives with his abundance and goodness.  It means that we sometimes have to plan for futures that are unforeseen and challenging.  It means that we will suffer hardship and heartbreak.  It means that sometimes we may have to rough it with others forming a small band of wayfarers who are sustained by God's presence and grace.  It means speaking the truth of our hearts in the presence of God and knowing that we are listened to but maybe not getting our own way.  It means struggling and wrestling with God / Christ to determine what it is that God is asking of us.  It means not accepting the broad road that has been paved so that their are no bumps but rather being jolted on the mule tracks of life, hanging from a precipice and coming through, knowing God's love in our hearts and lives.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Formation of community

The difficulty we face today is the fact that we have unlimited choice in what we want as individuals.  No one really worries, or dare I say it cares, about your choices so long as they are within the limits of the law.  This may mean that you go off to windsurf and form your community with those who do the same.  Perhaps you enjoy a glass of red and would prefer to do this surrounded by strangers, whom you may eventually get to know in a bar.  No matter what we are doing so long as we are satisfied, then who cares?  The one choice we are perhaps scared to make is a choice with regards our own spiritual journey because as soon as we make a choice in this arena we are pounced on from all and sundry.  The biases of the community to our faith journey is evident in the presumptions.  Your a Christian? those are the ones that go around drinking a persons blood and saying one thing but doing the complete opposite. Like politicians.  or Your a Muslim?  why aren't you wearing one of those covering things? aren't you all terrorists?  A Jew? aren't you the ones that say you look after the poor and the orphan but then go and create more by bombing the Palestinians?  These are hard accusations against any faith community based on limited understanding. So what makes the Christian community or any faith community a faith community?

For Christians, it starts with an acceptance, an acceptance of Christ who holds open a door into post-resurrection life (Jn 10.1-10).  Only when we truly enter into that life by stepping over the threshold of death do we begin to form the community that Christ  / God calls us into. Yet there is more to this than just acceptance and entry.  We enter into resurrection life by passing through our own deaths.  The death of our own individual wants and desires.  An entry into a life that is centred not on our own selves but on God.  It is a grouping of individuals that have allowed their trust to blossom between themselves and God in such a manner as to allow God to lead them.  It is not a community that is built on shame or on the concept of shaming someone to do something.  It is a group that builds its relationship around trust.  Trust in the other that is not myself and trust in the other that is ultimately other.  By opening the door Christ invites us into a relationship that is built on trust and love.  For us to become a viable part of that trusting community we need to shed our own desires and wants that we impose on others around us.  If we do not how can we build on trust? and in love?

Discerning the call into community not individuality
© Blake Coffee 

We open ourselves up to God and God's community, allowing God to direct and build according to God's will not in accordance with our will.  How is this done?  Perhaps, like the early followers of Christ immediately post resurrection (Acts 2.42-47), it is centred around the worship of God and prayer.  It is not centred around the crutches that we often depend on in today's world to focus our minds and let us know that God is present. Today, it is as if we cannot let go of ourselves and enter into God's presence without a symbolic crutch.  In those early days there were no symbols of the risen Lord only knowledge of God's presence as the worshippers immersed themselves in prayer.  We come together to form community around the table in communal worship.  It is not individual time to be with God when we come to worship; it is community being formed in God.  The joy and the hope that is formed is a joy and hope in community.  We are individuals outside of the worshipping community but we form the community in worship.  Each time we come together as a community we come together in the presence of God and allow his Spirit to affect our behaviour in Community.  If we set ourselves apart from the community, by clinging to our crutches, we no longer form as God's community but rather we come together as a bunch of individuals supermarket shopping for a Spiritual experience.