Sunday, 28 January 2018

How we bias others thinking

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians gets annoyed at those who use their knowledge to act in a manner that appears detrimental to others (1 Cor. 8.1-13).  Not everyone is capable of taking in large amounts of knowledge and assimilating it into everyday lives.  This means that we have to be careful in our use of knowledge, especially when it comes to faith, so that we do not say one thing and appear to do the opposite.  Occasionally we may also use our knowledge to manipulate how others think and so generate division within our own faith groups.  This is the way of dictators and those who wish to have power or control over a situation.

In living the Jewish faith and being close to God, Christ is recognised for his knowledge and questions are raised as to whether this is a new teaching (Mark 1.27).  His authority is undetermined and his teaching appears to be very different to the norm.  This is scary for some as they have a difficulty in determining his agenda (Mark 1.24).  Whilst in this particular case it is the result of "supernatural" knowledge it is still upsetting.  The question raised is an interesting one for it is the question I raised in the previous paragraph, although not spelled out - are you going to be a dictator or someone from God?  As we ourselves grow in faith this is a question that we have to ask ourselves - are we going to dictate what others do or are we going to encourage others to emulate God?  In reaching out to obtain knowledge we are also reaching out to obtain power.  In striving for knowledge we are also striving with ourselves as we apply that knowledge.  We can become power hungry and use our knowledge to dictate how others are to behave, both openly and subtly.  We are all familiar with the use of knowledge and power to delude people into thinking one thing while our "secret" behaviour is the opposite.  This gives rise to inappropriate behaviours and bullying for the sake of our own self importance.

It sometimes takes an effort to read the right path and not follow tradition

Christ makes it very clear that this is not the his way by rebuking the "unclean" spirit.  In the same manner Paul also rebukes those whose behaviour is misleading. How then can we determine what is right behaviour within our faith journey?  How can we determine that our actions are actually sowing the seeds of community and peace rather than discord and anger?  Tradition is not always something that should be blindly followed.  In increasing our knowledge and our faith we determine our actions that reflect Christ.  This may seem at odds with tradition where tradition has gone astray.  Just as Christ often did things that appeared to be contrary to tradition but actually fulfilled what God commanded.  If we are blind to our actions we may well lead people along the wrong path or misguide them by seemingly using knowledge without bringing love and understanding into their lives.  Understand that we are walking with God not that we are walking for our own agendas.  Walk the walk of Christ and not the walk of humanity so that we can change attitudes, worn out dogmas and traditions to create the new life in Christ.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

How did it go so wrong?

No matter which Gospel story you take there is an underlying theme that is consistent with Christ's initial and ongoing ministry.  In John it is couched in a heavier disguise than the others yet the same message is there for us to contemplate and feel concerned.  Perhaps it is found in its simplest in Mark (1.15).  The fact that the Kingdom of God or rather the Reign of God is come, here, upon you, immediate, present, etc.  It is not future orientated but present orientated and yet through the ages an accrual of disappointment has arisen that has allowed theologians to point to a future kingdom / reign.  This is something of utmost importance for us in today's society and the world around us and it is something that we must fully come to grips with if we are to fulfil our mission in Christ.  Perhaps the major issue is in terminological understanding or in our dreams / strivings / wishes / wants, etc.

A kingdom or a reign what do we seek?

Let us start with the terminological understandings that has perhaps led to the issue that faces the faith community today.  The word form used in the Greek in Mark 1.15 and other places is "basileia" or "ßασιλεια" that is usually translated as "kingdom" but can also be translated as "reign", "monarchy" or "royalty".  The fact that the automatic translation of the word has come down to us as "kingdom" has automatically coloured our expectations.  In this case we perhaps strive for conquest or for a cohesive whole or a place.  In other words, we base our reality of God's wishes on our own empires and domains ruled by someone, perhaps in this case God.  This being the case then the perception carries through that those who head the conquering thrust are senior officials in the Kingdom having power and authority of their own.  In this sense then the Kingdom is still to come as the final conquest has not occurred as the whole of creation is not "Christian".  or perhaps it is to come in the "afterlife"...  What then if we change our perceptions?  Not something that is easily done as we have to divorce ourselves from a static entity "kingdom" to embrace a fluid understanding of "reign" or one of the others.  There is no specific place that comes to mind but rather an ethos or the way of being.  It is a much harder concept to visualise or even to understand, in a manner of speaking it is somewhat like the concepts of peace, justice, etc.  So if we are to understand this as our interpretation the presence of the "reign" being here and now is a much easier concept to embrace.

Here though comes the second challenge for it is easier to strive for, dream about, wish for a concrete reality in a geographical space such as a "kingdom"  than it is to dream about a concept that is all encompassing.  Yet when Christ says that the reign of God is close it is for it as close as the effort that we put in to make it so.  We have perhaps chased after a golden dream with our theological understandings rather than a practical working of the dream in the present reality.  Instead of being intellectual and waiting perhaps we need to be practical and doing to achieve the reality of newness and the reign of Christ.  Have we perhaps made too much of our theological prowess and created an over complex understanding for a simplicity that is inherent in the Gospel call.  Christ called fishermen not theologians into a simple life that meant we lived for the moment not for the ideal.  Paul states this magnificently in his Corinthian passage (1 Cor. 7.29-31) granting us a paradoxical upside downess that is the reign of Christ, happy in mourning, possessing without possessing, etc.  This is what we are called into not a future so obscured by theological non-insightful insight that it is unbelievable in today's age and unachievable in any.  Have we really let the reign of God slip so easily through our fingers as we have searched for a blessed time to come in a future that never arrives?  Maybe there is time for us to seek the kingdom of God in our lives if only we were to look for Christ's reign.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Called by God?

What makes you think that God has called you into ministry?  How do you know?  Does this mean that you are special and can now lord it all over others?  Questions that need answers when we think that God has called u into some new venture.  The call of God is an inevitable call into constant change and constant newness.  It is not an easy thing to recognise and is not and easy thing to grasp in our imaginations or lives. Just with Samuel and Eli often we do not understand what is happening until a while down the track (1 Sam. 3.1-11).  Most of us just like Samuel need to have someone say to us listen up God is talking.  It is all very well to try and be like the disciples and drop everything (John 1.45-51) but for many it is a question of time and being pushed into a new direction.

Often times this may seem very strange at the time and awkward for everyone around us but once we respond to that quiet voice we begin to see the formation of logical streams that culminate in what and where God wishes us to be.  Often it is in hindsight that we recognise the prompting of God even if for others it has been relatively obvious.  In the beginning of a new year we either find ourselves looking back and discovering our mistakes or looking forward and trying to find some means of struggling forward to some new purpose.  This can often arise as something that has attributes of sameness to those things that we had greatness with in the past.  A move which actually brings us back to the comfortable place that we inhabit with out assisting God to create newness.  In doing so we find it ever harder to discover God in our midst as we grow a hardened shell around us that prevents the newness we fear from entering in.  Yet God's voice is persistent and somehow bypasses the shields we place around us, it becomes an irritating itch that needs to be scratched or prevents us from gaining the rest that we are looking for in the midst of new activity.

Are we responding to God's voice in the ordinary?

What generally happens is that we put the call to the side and leave it like Eli does at the start of the interaction with Samuel (1 Sam. 1.4-7).  Unlike Eli though we are not as quick to realise what is occurring by putting up a wall or just ignoring the call.  We do not encourage ourselves to discern God's call on our communal lives or even our individual lives.  Things like God calling us are spooky and totally out there things that have no place in today's world.  This makes it easier and easier for us to ignore the small persistent voice. This means that we have accepted that we are in a place of comfort and do not want to grow or move on from this place.  God's call brings us away from the comforts of live and faces us with the harsh reality of those around us who are at the edges.  Another reason why we do not want to heed that small voice.  Who wants to give up comfortable surroundings for the desert and insecurity of life at the edge.  It is when we are prepared to move out into the shattered lives of tragedy that we find God is there ahead of us calling us to minister.  We just have to remember the affect of a run down parish had in the face of tragedy in London.  Yet the call is not just for tragedies it is for everyday boring life.  This unfortunately is were we struggle because we can see the need in tragedy and the bigger picture things like, Manus, like Nauru, like abuse, etc but we cannot see the differences in normal everyday lives.  We have lost our own connection to the sublime and the holy.  We cannot connect what these mean for an ordinary life in the world.  Perhaps it is time for us to answer God's call in the ordinary rather than waiting for the extraordinary.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The promise in the beginning

The Church celebrates the beginning of our faith journey with baptism.  A symbolism that recalls Christ's baptism  (Mark 1.9-11) and death to sin over calm waters that are prepared to keep the child from being to disturbed by the event.  In other denominations the event is more traumatic with the complete immersion of the person in a pool, somewhat closer to the original immersion baptism of the earlier church.  However, the symbolic immersion in the waters of the deep not only representative of death but also of the chaotic structures at the beginning of time (Gen. 1.1-3).  This passage is not as easy to understand as our historic roots would suggest.  We make an assumption of a God that is imperious and creator as opposed to a creation that is subservient to the imperious Creator's will.  This tumultuous text hides, in English translations, the Hebraic structuring of a complex sentence covering three (English) verses.  Verses that recall not an imperious God but one who invites creation from the absence of things that is present in tohu vabohu (emptiness and void) of a turbulent water over which God's Spirit hovers.

Beginnings do not start from no-thing but rather from the edge of chaos and order, a decision point that either moves us away from the turbulent into a stagnant similarity to what has gone before or sends us into a frenzied creativity pulling us along to form newness and change in the face of chaos.  Christ following his baptism, not surprisingly, is sent by the Spirit into the desert (tohu) of primal experimentation and creation not an abstract nothingness.  The place where God's Spirit hovers refreshing, renewing and creating pathways towards life and abundance.  Baptism asks us to give up, surrender the old life in place of the new.  A surrendering that allows for a sundering from what has gone before creating a space for newness to appear and develop.  The water's symbolism of those things which are beyond our grasp and understanding reach out to us to form newness and life.

Chaos and order at the edges leading to newness of life

It is in this place of possibilities that we hear God call to us, not in authority but rather as an invitation.  God calls to the light an invitation to be not a command to exist or be wrangled from out of the chaos and the deep.  This is a cooperative creation that brings order out of chaos.  In our baptism we are invited into a cooperative ministry that burgeons forth into the life of Christ in the community around us.  It is we who are invited to go out to invite.  To begin once more and undertake the process of creation.  The creation of peace and justice out of the chaos of modernity.  It is at the sharp edges of society where we are called to bring God's presence, it is here in the chaos of the everyday that we find the creativity of God's play as we answer the challenge that drives us into the tohu,. that place were there is no-thing but every possible thing.  The beginning comes at the start of all things and all times let us begin once more to taste the flavour of God's creativity in our lives.