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Monday, 31 December 2007

Anglicans in Australia

Tom Frame has done a good job with his most recent book Anglicans in Australia (UNSW Press, 2007) in telling a complex story well. At least that's my view as someone from outside the Anglican tradition though I confess to having spent a fair amount of time churching with Anglican communities.

It is a book that is distinguished by a good tempered tone. a deep commitment to the renewal of the Anglican church and a willingness to be clear about the difficulties facing the church. There is something deeply "Anglican" in the best sense of that term, about the tone and temper of the writing.

I shall look forward to the reviews by his fellow Anglicans and hope that they engage with Tom's argument in the spirit in which it has been written.

On the way through a number of questions occurred to me that arose from my perspective as one who has been deeply influenced in recent years by the Anabaptist tradition. A nest of overlapping questions seemed to be lurking just out of focus as I read the text:
  • whether the Anglican Church in Australia has quite gotten over a hankering for Establishment?
  • How willing it would be to revisit and acknowledge the ambiguities of the Christendom settlement? (there are a couple of unqualified references to Christendom in the book that seem to be in the present tense)
  • How really enthusiastic are Australian Anglicans about mission post-Christendom?
  • What might the implications be for Anglican ecclesiology and theology more generally of active engagement in the post-christendom context in Australia? In posing this question I am asking in my own way about the historical contingencies that have shaped Anglicanism and what forms of church life might survive as something recognisably Anglican in this new context.
These questions are not so much directed at Tom (on the issue of Establishment there is no question as to where he stands - very much against it) but a first attempt to frame some of my own questions.

Claiming an historical heritage as central to their identity as Anglicans do is fair enough. The issue that is rarely explicitly dealt with by those claiming the heritage is the question of the use of state power to enforce matters of worship and theology, whether directly by capital punishment and torture, or less directly by educational, social and economic discrimination against Catholics and dissenters. This it seems to me to be a scandal that needs to be more directly addressed.

I was delighted to note that Tom suggests a revisiting of the Thirty-nine articles. A reconsideration of those articles might provide a useful opportunity for dialogue with descendants of the 'detested anabaptists" over a number of matters canvassed therein.

Christmas as the time of no room

A collection of readings for Advent and Christmas, Watch for the Light, brought me this morning an extract from Thomas Merton's meditation "The Time of No Room" from his collection of essays, Raids on the Unspeakable.

Merton opens up another dimension of the politics of Christmas with a reminder of the critical approach of the Old Testament tradition to the practice of the census.

Why then was the inn crowded? Because of the census, the eschatological massing of the "whole world" in centers of registration, to be numbered, to be identified with the structure of imperial power. The purpose of the census: to discover those who were to be taxed. To find out those who were eligible for service in the armies of the empire.

The Bible had not been friendly to a census in the days when God was ruler of Israel (2 Samuel 24). the numbering of the people of god by an alien emperor and their full consent to it was itself an eschatological sign, preparing those who could understand it to meet judgment with repentance.

Merton provides a powerful reflection on the detail that there was no room for the baby in the inn.

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it - because he is out of place in it and yet must be in it - his place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Luke on Christmas and the Empire

In comments yesterday on the politics of Christmas in Luke, I forgot to mention that the story is located explicitly in the midst of empire. A census is being undertaken to establish the base for revenue and the rake-offs by the various organs of political authority at local and regional levels.

The language of the Christmas story is spare, stark and edgy - there is nothing sentimental here - Mary is told that a "sword would pierce her heart". How did we get into the sentimental mode in which the festival becomes a warm celebration of family insulated by an unrelenting consumption from the reality of life for much of the world and hiding from ourselves the reality of dysfunctional relationships.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Politics of Christmas according to Luke

For all the attention paid to the birth of Jesus in the focus on Christmas in both the church and the prevailing culture, the stories that we have are limited to only two of the four gospel accounts of Jesus. This is is in stark contrast to the focus in all four gospels on the last week of Jesus life and his execution.

In Luke's account as in Matthew's account, discussed earlier this week, we land up in the midst of the politics of first century Palestine, not some nice spiritually warm "religious" event.

Luke focuses our attention on the political aspirations of the people of Palestine located against the history of their striving for identity and independence - hoping for liberation - read the poetry of the Magnificat and the prophetic Benedictus, all this is soaked in the language of politics, of justice, pulling down princes, lifting up the poor, freedom from fear and guiding our feet into the path of peace.

All the signs and language of this account are a counter imperial challenge to the claim of the ruling Roman powers and the claims to divinity of Caesar.

With Caesar there was not distinction between the 'political' and the 'religious' - Luke was writing to those in the wider Roman empire. To make the claims Luke does was to call into question the political claims of the empire.

Jesus is bringing into the world, Luke advises us, a new form of politics that calls the claims of Caesar into severe question.

Luke's Christmas account read carefully calls into question any easy alignment of those who claim to be followers of Jesus with the pretensions of Empire - then and now.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Shipwrecked at the Stable Door

Celebrating Christmas as a regular event on the church's calendar, let alone getting swamped by the commercialised family fest has its downside. You can take it for granted and the sheer wonder of the contingency gets lost.

Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian singer, songwriter, poet continues to remind me of the sheer wonder and strangeness with some lines from a song on his 1989 album Big Circumstance, lines which connect the Christmas story with the radical claims of the Sermon on the Mount.

Big circumstance has brought me here wish it would send home
never was clear where home was but its nothing you can own
It can't be bought with cigarettes or nylons or perfume,
And all the highest bidder gets is a voucher for a tomb

Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek
for theirs shall be the Kingdom that the power mongers seek
And blessed are the dead for love and those who cry for peace
And those who love the gift of earth may their gene pool increase ...

Left like a shadow on the step where the body was before
Shipwrecked at the stable door
(
Bruce Cockburn "Shipwrecked at the Stable door")

This year as in many other Christmases past I find myself shipwrecked at the stable door - with nowhere else to go but step inside stunned at the sheer wonder of this strange disturbing event, this baby who was to radically disturb the peace of this world's rulers, and then to step back out and follow the shepherds back to the everyday life of herding sheep, shepherding ministerial correspondence and this strange counter-cultural call to love the gift of earth and cry for peace.

Left like a shadow on the step where the body was before
Shipwrecked at the stable door

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Christmas in context - violence, grieving and refugees


Jim Barr in his sermon at Canberra Baptist this morning for the fourth Sunday on Advent drew attention to the gaping difference between the nostalgic sentimentality of Christmas in the current consumer and church culture and the stark realities of Matthew's gospel account in chapter 2.

Matthew gives us a story of political realpolitik, genocidal violence and refugees fleeing their homeland. There is in the text a triple layer of reference to grieving - the children massacred by Herod, the quotation of Jeremiah with its grief at the exile in Babylon, referring in further back to Rachel, a mother in the line of the patriarchs in her grieving.

Here is a story that resonates through so much of the experience of the Jewish diaspora for the next twentieth centuries and a story that could be claimed by Palestinian civilians in refugee camps, Gaza and the West Bank today.

The Christian church in its Christendom embrace of empire has frequently aligned itself on the side of practitioners of realpolitik and has ended on the side of Herod rather than the refugees and those who are grieving.

No wonder we in the church, let alone the wider community, collectively avert our eyes and close our hearts to the hard challenging edge of a story that speaks of the coming and presence of God as vulnerability in the midst of violence and grief.







Friday, 21 December 2007

A congregational gathering? The liturgy of a university graduation

Gathering in a sports stadium as a member of a congregation?

The gathering at the AIS arena in Canberra for my son's graduation was to be forcefully reminded of the medieval and ecclesiastical roots of the University.

We were both summoned at the beginning as a congregation and so dismissed at the conclusion of our gathering. the event was broken up by brief musical performances. We had minimal congregational singing but we did receive a homily with the injunction from a distinguished academic calling the graduates to the ongoing exercise of judgement with respect to our professional involvement and our contribution to the community. It was a call to live out in our daily lives with moral awareness and responsibility. it was coherent as these things go but only hinted at the shape of the moral judgement to be exercised. We could have formed some idea of the character of the moral judgements that the lecturer would have commended by taking account of his intellectual career and his own moral commitments.

Had me thinking about the title of Alistair McIntyre's book - Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

It made me think too of the liturgical form and performance of the Anglican and Catholic churches - everyone attending is reassured by the antiquity of the formality of the robes and structured form of the liturgy - few stop to ask whether the moral, philosophical and theological commitments that they initially embodied are truly represented in their actual performance.

How could we have a conversation about the issue and even know what questions to ask?

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Marriage, christendom and Christian confusion

Is the major issue at stake in the debate between Christian conservatives and those proposing civil unions for homosexuals about the status and character of the family?

Is the real question one about sexuality or about the hangover of Christendom and a Christendom mentality within the Christian church?

The question needs to be considered but has substantial ramifications that take us into questions of ecclesiology, social change and why the church should be subversive.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

No Room at the Inn - an indigenous view

In my Advent readings this week I was reminded that Christmas in the Gospel accounts offered by both Matthew and Luke is about our receiving not our giving.

In the spirit of Christmas as reception as vulnerability, not giving from a position of strength then it might be appropriate to receive as a gift from our indigenous brothers and sisters the following letter.

The letter poses the questions of who is being left in the stable? Jesus was left in the stable in the original stable.

The question might have been even more provocatively phrased - if indigenous people are being left in the stable - they at least are being located somewhere close to Jesus. Where does that place the rest of us - comfortably in the inn but distanced from Jesus.

A letter to inform, to provoke thought and conversation about where we might find Jesus.


11 December 2007

An Open Letter to the Australian Nation
from the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
of the National Council of Churches in Australia

“No Room at the Inn”

At this time of the year, as we turn our minds to Christmas and reflect on the year that was (and what a year it was) and look forward to the year to come, I cannot help but think of many of my Indigenous brothers and sisters. This season of peace, hope and joy leads me to ask, ‘what peace, hope and joy will be given unto us with the coming of the Christ Child into the world?’ Over the last 237 years since Lt. James Cook arrived, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been denied a proper place within our own country. Just like Jesus’ family on returning to their home country we also have not been able to find a proper place for ourselves in our own land.

Too many other interests seem to distract the country where we once roamed freely. We have been turned away at the door and given scant attention and meagre generosity by the new Innkeepers. It is interesting that we, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were not part of Federation, were forgotten about as the new wave of Immigrants came from the Mediterranean during the post war years and were not on the radar until the 1967 referendum. Except, of course, when we were allowed to lose our lives fighting for this country, or when we were seen as strange curiosities of a bygone era. Mostly, we were labelled as a troublesome few dissidents who should not expect the same rights as everyone else.

Children were removed from their families because it was perceived that they were not being cared for to acceptable western standards. Or they were taken away simply so they could be given the ‘western makeover’ to fit better into western society. The only problem was that they still had a different colour than those holding up the bar of mainstream society.

This brings me to the question of an apology. The former Howard Government was against any apology as it was seen that the mainstream should not be held accountable for the past, and such an apology could hold the State open to litigation. It’s an interesting irony that in this corporate world we live in, mainstream Australia will hold accountable corporations for their past organisational failings, and yet the nation cannot live up to its own corporate responsibilities. As for the apology itself, the Nation is either Sorry or it’s not. Putting provisos on it (we regret etc.) is not an apology. If we are going to move forward then it is very important that the Nation says Sorry and accepts any consequences that might result. The present Rudd Government must take the lead on this and soon.

The continual denial of the rights of Indigenous peoples, as Australian Citizens, has gone on for too long. We have a right to education, health and the many opportunities that most Australians take for granted. Governments need to act now to correct these situations, which occur around the country not just the Northern Territory, and close the gap between us and the mainstream. As I’ve often said in other Forums, how can Australia set out to save the world when there is so much to be done at home? What credibility does Australia have if it is not working to correct the situations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

There needs to be a plan, not knee jerk reactions, to address these situations. The Millennium Development Goals help us in this area. These eight time bound and measurable goals discourage empty rhetoric. They encourage us to formulate concrete plans to build a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The first step to any action is recognition of what is currently happening. We have no real voice or say or control in what is happening to us. Outsiders are dictating our future. There is no national representative voice to carry our hopes, dreams and desires forward into the future. Hand picked advisors are not a representative voice. A process needs to be put into place where a representative voice can be heard and acted upon. National conventions need to be held so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can contribute to the process of forming this new voice and eventually own the outcomes.

People say that there is not one voice in Indigenous Australia, but surely that can also be said of mainstream Australia. Our Federal Parliament, with different parties and different factions, continues to exist. The one voice comes when these groups are allowed a forum like Parliament to reach compromise and consensus for the good of all. This forum will help lead us into a better tomorrow for our children and children’s children. The issue of whether we should be included in the preamble to the constitution of Australia can also be debated in these forums and a proposition then put forward to the Australian people in a future referendum. These issues cannot be put off until tomorrow for tomorrow may never come. Many of our great Indigenous leaders are already passing on and we need their valuable input into these forums.

As I reflect this Christmas time, I wonder if Australia will place their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians again in the stable, as Jesus was over 2,000 years ago, or will we be invited in to share fully in the Australia which is so gifted, diverse and forward looking. Will we begin to “Make Indigenous Poverty History” this Christmas?

May the peace, hope and Joy of Christmas fill all Australians with the hope of a new tomorrow!

Graeme Mundine
Executive Secretary
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
National Council of Churches in Australia
http://www.ncca.org.au/media_releases?p=3277

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Values language and violence

In an article on the Evangelical Alliance web site Ian Packer has started the task of challenging the use of the language of values and why it is problematic and linked to the problem of achieving civic discourse.

http://www.ea.org.au/AustralianElection2007/Articles-FaithPolitics.aspx


The language of values is closely linked to the language of choice and to present the christian faith in the language of choice and encouraging people to share certain values is to imply hat we are wanting to force our choices on other people - in other words a form of violence.

The language of values is strategy that enables us to avoid the up front discussion of differing views about the nature of the good.

It avoids facing up directly to the reality of pluralism in a secular society.

Forgiveness and violencehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

The massacre of Amish children in the school house at Nickel Mines in October 2006 brought an unusual degree of media focus on this community that has its roots in the Anabaptist strand of the Reformation in the early 16th century.

The early gestures of forgiveness by the members of the community towards the family of the man who committed the murders aroused a response of incredulity from US media in particular.

A year later we have the results of an investigation by sociologists that demonstrates how deeply rooted were the habits and practices of the Amish community that underpinned those gestures of forgiveness.

Following the 2 October 2006 shooting that killed five Amish girls and wounded five others in the USA, three investigators (Dr Donald B. Kraybill, Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, Dr Steven M. Nolt, Goshen College, Indiana, and Dr David Weaver-Zercher, Messiah College, Pennsylvania) explored why and how the Amish expressed forgiveness in the wake of the shooting. The research methods involved face-to-face interviews with Amish people to probe their practice of forgiveness. In addition the researchers pursued Amish writings on forgiveness as well as historical examples when Amish people forgave those who wronged them. The investigators also reviewed hundreds of media stories and editorials on Amish forgiveness at Nickel Mines. Finally, the investigation compared Amish practices of forgiveness with broader studies of forgiveness in American society. The research was conducted from 1 November 2006 through to 1 April 2007. The results are summarised below and have been released in the new book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

A full report of the findins is available on the Ekkelsia Web site:

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6387

This witness to peacemaking stands as a challenge to the prevailing political cuture that focuses on "being tough" and a church culture that focuses on "feel good meeting of needs"

Forgiveness and violencehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

The massacre of Amish chldren in the school house at Nickel Mines in October 2006 brought an unusual degree of media focus on this community that has its roots in the Anabaptist strand of the Reformation in the early 16th century.

The early gestures of forgiveness by the members of the community towards the family of the man who committed the murders aroused a response of incredulity from US media in particular.

A year later we have the results of an investigation by sociologists that demonstrates how deeply rooted were the habits and practices of the Amish community that underpinned those gestures of forgiveness.

Following the 2 October 2006 shooting that killed five Amish girls and wounded five others in the USA, three investigators (Dr Donald B. Kraybill, Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, Dr Steven M. Nolt, Goshen College, Indiana, and Dr David Weaver-Zercher, Messiah College, Pennsylvania) explored why and how the Amish expressed forgiveness in the wake of the shooting. The research methods involved face-to-face interviews with Amish people to probe their practice of forgiveness. In addition the researchers pursued Amish writings on forgiveness as well as historical examples when Amish people forgave those who wronged them. The investigators also reviewed hundreds of media stories and editorials on Amish forgiveness at Nickel Mines. Finally, the investigation compared Amish practices of forgiveness with broader studies of forgiveness in American society. The research was conducted from 1 November 2006 through to 1 April 2007. The results are summarised below and have been released in the new book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

A full report of the findings is available on the Ekkelsia Web site:

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6387

This witness to peacemaking stands as a challenge to the prevailing political cuture that focuses on "being tough" and a church culture that focuses on "feel good meeting of needs"