Sunday, 27 May 2018

Out moded but relevant

The Trinity is a dogma that is forged in the fires of controversy. It is not formulated in language that is consistent with the modern world and is an examination of or rather an attempt at explaining something in a language that is redolent of medieval world views and Greek philosophy. Yet it is a founding principle upon which the Christian faith stands which has not been changed nor truly examined other than to try and explain it in modernistic terms. Perhaps that is to unkind, yet if we think about the theological investigations and verbiage around the topic most of it is constrained by the very thought of what is being discussed, the Trinitarian formulation, and not by going back to first principles. It has perhaps become a cage within which the Christian faith survives but also prevents that same faith from thriving within the natural state.

If we are to truly expand our faith boundaries why are we confining our thinking by relying on the structures of the past or should we rather build on the deeper bedrock, understand the formulation and re-iterate a new formulation that makes provision for our modern life. At this time of year preachers are constrained to bring an understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine to their own flock through the use of such things as the clover leaf, clock face, mother / daughter / sister, or other such analogies to bring about understanding. In the same breathe our denominations explode outwards as they magnify on over the other in their worship experience (Jesus over the Spirit / Father, the Spirit over the son / Father and of course in limited places the Father over the Son / Spirit). It is easier for us to conceive of a singular rather than a plural singular or it is easier to worship a plural over a singular plural. Individuality is for us the key and anything above one is just confusing unless it is broken into oneness. This distinctiveness is a draw back for many as they have trouble with the philosophical concepts that the Trinitarian formulation raises.

Is Trinity only singularity?

If, we look carefully at our Hebraic roots buried in the Bible we can see that there is a discrepancy regarding singularity of worship of a sole God. Rather, it is a God that is worshipped over other Gods that is acceptable and promoted, whilst acknowledging the presence of other Gods (Ps. 82). Strict monotheism becomes a feature of the faith journey only after the exilic period. Our inheritance of which moves towards the strict dichotism we have in the modern era that it has to be the right or the left, God or Evil, etc.  This leaves no space for both / and. Early Christian life was filled with difference in understanding prior to the imposition of ordered thought. In grappling with this early difference in God - thinking, Tertullian and others out of Africa formulated our Trinitarian aspect, which has perhaps caged our growth into and understanding of God for whose likeness we were given in creation. An understanding which some suggest has been uplifted from the sagacity of African thought in the communal spaces of I am because you are and you are because I am. So can we retain an understanding of God that is uniquely part of us (God Immanuel) (Rom 8.12-17) and yet is so far beyond our understanding that we struggle to define and describe. Did the originators of the formulation believe it would be the only means of God-talk or did they expect it to evolve as our thought and world views evolved?

In this world we are surrounded by networks of relational activity that connect us to the past, present and future of those close and far away. We do not live in singularity but in multiplicity. God's presence springs up not in familial lineage down the years but more like an out of control rhizome of connectivity that springs up where the gardener (our dogma, formulas and neat garden solutions) least expects. Setting our thoughts, bodies and communities afire with difference and change that inspires. Others suggest that we begin to re-read our faith journey and re-interpret our understandings on the backs of twisting elastic threads, not singularities of particulate material, that cause paradoxical jumps and communications across vast unsupported space. A more elastic understanding that inhabits God's freedom in the world not containing but releasing and opening our hearts to those around us.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

We are but we are not

Following Christ in the world as it is today is challenging as we express God's love in fulfillment of Christ's commandments. It is hard for us to use the expressions of faith in a world that is dominated by science and reason. A world that is focused on rational thought and lacks the ability to appreciate the otherness that is portrayed in the transcendence of God's presence....or is it. Perhaps it is just that we have failed to capture an ability to show that transcendence and bring it into the lives of the everyday. Christ prays for his disciples and by extension ourselves as we live in the world and are yet not of the world (Jn 17.15-19). This recognition of the tension in the reality of coming to understand transcendence as being part of the world but at seeming odds with the rationality of our lived experience is an important aspect to understand.

The very first thing that we need to understand is that this is something that effects all of us but most especially it effects both how we look at and also how we interact with the structures that we put in place for mission, ministry and being effective disciples in the world. Charles Taylor, the noted philosopher, has suggested that this tension is a result of our becoming more opaque to the world as a result of our modern rational scientific approach. In other words we do not see mystery and transcendence as a part of life. Yet, when we look around us this ability to interact with mystery is present although changed / morphed / transformed being seen in the enormous appeal of films that portray magic / super-power / the clash of good and evil. So, is there an actual division that has to be overcome or a tension between the two that has to be ameliorated in terms of our faith lives and our secular lives. We see very obviously in the Church of today the impost of legal requirements that are set by secular society and how the Church often appears to have taken these on with little consideration on the effects on faith and the faith community. 1 John is very clear in how we should undertake these interactions (5.9-13) by promoting our living in Christ. Often in the reality of the day our faith journey is disrupted by the imposed requirements of non-faith understandings and requirements thus disabling our ability to perceive the transcendence of God in our midst.

Every second is God's it does not need to be managed.

Perhaps, as an example we need to look at how we go about organising an outing that involves children. Not that long ago it was acceptable to plan and go to a camp site without much fuss. Today of course there are insurance forms, working with children's checks and any other number of hurdles that have to be overcome before it is even booked. This is not to say that these things are perhaps necessary but the danger for us is that the more there is to arrange the less likely it is to become a reality. The simple outlook of a previous seculum has now become an over managed project with little in the way of Christ-likeness portrayed. Sometimes we need to be careful as to what becomes overmanaged and how this may disrupt our ability as Christians to minister to different groups. Christ in John's gospel recognises the difficulty even then but it has become greater as time has passed and as we as Christians have allowed our secular eyes to focus more than our sacred eyes. Christ did not ask us to become his disciples to manage things but to open people to an encounter with God. Even in our liturgical spaces we must become ever wary of the idea that it is static and conforms to a specific ideal, the music, the movement must all be something that enhances a persons experience. Can we really say that this piece of music is unsuitable and this not if people come to worship and praise through its presence? Sometimes we try to manage even the smallest detail not realising that we are destroying our ability to reach those who have not met God. We need to live our faith not manage our faith. We need to see God's presence in the day to day and not just in the managed space of the "Sunday service".

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Can we obey Christ's commandment?

We honour it every week in our traditional and non-traditional services; we acknowledge it, we affirm it, we say that this is what we do, but do we actually manifest this commandment in the world? I reckon that if every Christian actually did undertake the words of Christ in John 15.17 the world would be a different place. This is fully at the heart of the Gospel and yet for all we proclaim it we do not and I repeat, we do not obey this one commandment that follows from the love of God. I can already hear every Christian that reads this saying "But we do". I am saying no you do not. How do I know this because the state the world is in. It is in fact irrespective of what faith anyone holds, there is a consistency of thought throughout every faith that the world would be better if we got over ourselves and loved each other.  This does not happen and I do not have to go through reams of examples to show the bigotry of the world and its people whether it is Australia, UK or USA it is the same.

Why? It is perhaps simply the fact that we are to involved with our selves and our own needs that we are unconcerned about the needs of others. We only wish to be associated with those we can get on with rather than those we cannot. Once we start this we begin to create our own little enclaves of those who belong and those who do not. In a way the division starts even with the writer of 1 John as they draw the lines of acceptance in the sand (1 John 5.12). Once we begin we cannot and dare not stop creating the divisions that we are comfortable with, within the societies that we belong to. Once we have the society than all others are non-members and are to be shunned as they are not us. The wall has been formed and it becomes increasingly impossible to breach the barrier and reach the individual, group, society on the other side.

We are called from our baptism to form community and to enable others to come to God through Christ. However, we begin to baulk at this because it means so much we immediately take it that it is an onerous and thankless task, so the designated person can do it for us. They will present programs and that will enable our ability to undertake that which we need to do.  If it brings success then we will continue and re-iterate irrespective what else is going on around us. Perhaps we can put a programme in for young people, perhaps we can undertake home groups, perhaps we can prepare to undertake some form of outreach service and bring "GOD" into it. We need to manage the situation so that we can deliver God's love or so it would seem. A really good programme or mission is all that is required and if it is managed properly then we will have people pouring in the doors, a full church.  But is that what Christ set his disciples to do? Did he send them out to gather the crowds so that they could become part of the "Church" or did he send them out to bring God closer to the people so that they would realise that God was with them and part of them?

At the end of the day does it really matter if the "Church" grows, isn't that what God is about, surely our job, our calling is to live as Christ and bring God close to those who are unable to come close to God. It is God's love that matters not whether the Church grows. As someone else has said the Church exists to glorify God after that, whether it grows or not is up to God. Our "job" is to follow Christ in the costly calling of God's love not to ensure that the numbers in the pew are increasing, that is nowhere near the top of the list of commandments.  What is is to love God and love our neighbour and the first thing to be done there is to break down the walls that have arisen around our own enclaves, to open the doors to all so that we can share God's love with all.  How do we do that? Well if we are not doing it at present perhaps now the time to start by saying "Hello", "Ciao!", "Kaya", "Jingari" and any other number of greetings to those you do not know as you walk the malls and streets of your everyday life.

Hello, Ciao!, Kaya, Jingeri, Salut or whatever you want to break the divisions between our cultures