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Monday, 30 June 2008

Grief, Tragedy and getting out of life alive

Grief at the devastating violence against children reported in the past couple of weeks in the australian media, from children left to starve by their parents in Brisbane to a double murder of his children and suicide by a father in rugged country west of Eden and an apparent axe murder of children by their father is warranted. Grieve with those who grieve ...

However the public response for the government to do something and the assumption that violence can be prevented by more laws deserves some further consideration.

The assumption is that evil can be prevented and tragedy avoided by sufficient use of legislation and government mandated intervention and surveillance.

What needs further reflection is the unacknowledged violence in the human heart and the assumption that with enough intelligence and education and the employment of enough socal workers and police we could all get out of life alive ...

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Subsizing World Youth Day

The costs to the NSW State government of staging the Catholic church's World Youth Day this year is going to come in a bit under $100 million but probably not by much.

I have to say I find this troubling - for a couple of reasons. One is that security legislation similar to that inforce during the legendary APEC schemozzle last year is in force. (the challenge to the Chaser Team must be almost irresistible). The second is that the church has tied itself up with government by accepting a substantial financial subsidy for an event which relates to the heart of the church's activity in encouraging pilgrimage and proclamation of its core identity as a movement committed to following Jesus.

Something is not quite right here - the dissonance between the life and witness of Jesus and the acceptance of subsidisation by government and assent to use of legislation which concentrates increased power in the hands of the state is too sharp for me to feel comfortable.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Church, World and Religion

The Bonhoeffer daily reader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I Want to Live These Days with You in its readings in June focuses on the Unity of the Church - interestingly many of the extracts deal with a theology of the relationship of the church and world and why it is not all about individual religious experience and meeting the spiritual needs of humans as consumers.

Bonhoeffer deconstruct's a Christendom mentality that is committed to top down institutional power and forces our attention back again and again to Jesus Christ as the key to our practice of community witness and humanity.

June 13:
When God in Jesus Christ claims space in the world - even if only in a stable "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7) - then at the same time God summarizes in this small space the whole reality of the world and reveals its ultimate foundation. So also the church of Jesus Christ is the place - that is the space - in the world in which the lordship of Jesus Christ is witnessed and proclaimed over all the world ...

The space of the church is not there to make a piece of the world controversial. but precisely to attest to the world that it remains the world, specifically the world loved and reconciled by God. The church does not desire more space than it needs in order to serve the world with its witness to Jesus Christ and to the world's reconciliation with God through Christ. Also the church can defend its own space only by fighting not for it but for the salvation of the world. Otherwise the church becomes the "society of religion" that fights for its own cause and thereby ceases to be the church of God in the world. The first instruction to those who belong to the church is not, therefore, to do something for themselves - say create a religious organisation, or lead a pious life - but be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world.

June 15:
The church is the humanity that was incarnate, condemned and raised to new life in Christ. Thus to begin with it has essentially nothing at all to do with the so-0called religious functions of human beings; it has to do rather with the whole of human kind in its existence in the world and in all its relationships.
What the church is all about is not religion but the form of Christ and Christ taking shape among a group of human beings.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


If you want the eternal, hold on to the temporal. If you want God, hold on to the world.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I Want to Live These Days with You - A year of Daily Devotions, WJKP, 2007)

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

What about Hitler?

A persistent viral infection has found me curled up at home reading and given me the opportunity to go back and work my way through some of the books piled up on my bedside table, while in the background the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq is announced and analysed.

The inability of radio journalists to press politicians on the impact of the war on Iraqi society and on the difficulty of arriving at any unambiguous assessment of what that military intervention has meant is frustrating.

Brendan Nelson seemed remarkably comfortable with the assessment that Iraqis were happy not to have security forces torturing them and their families now that Sadaam's regime has gone. Fair point but he was not then pressed on the issue of how that might be balanced against the internal conflict with torture, banditry, kidnapping and civil war with the result that there have been 2 million refugees and two million other Iraqis displaced within the country. Even on a utilitarian ethical assessment that might be a difficult calculation to balance out even after 5 years and politicians are mostly utilitarian, most of the time. but no Brendan wasn't pressed on that issue.

The difficulties of responding to such "wicked problems" are ones that Christians who take Jesus's teaching and life seriously have to struggle with continually. It often pops up for example in the "What about Hitler?" question.

One of the books I have picked up to work my way through is Robert Brimlow's book of that title, with the subtitle "Wrestling with Jesus's call to Nonviolence in an Evil World' (Brazos Press, 2006).

Robert Brimlow in the introduction makes his starting point clear:

...part of what is entailed in our call to follow Jesus is that we are called away from violence. We are not called to be pacifists; we are called to be christians, and part of what it means to to be Christians is to be peacemakers. ...

The gospel is full of teachings that counsel us to make peace by following Jesus, and there are numerous examples from the Lord's life that illustrate what those counsels mean. The problem is that those counsels and teachings and examples are very clear, while at the same time they seem to be impossible. What makes them hard is not that they are too vague or so broadly expressed that they are open to a wide variety of contrary interpretations. They are straightforward and unambiguous. (p.11)

Brimlow is making the point that the call to peacemaking is an essential element of discipleship not some add on for those interested in political or social activism.

While our recognition that we are called to be disciples might occur suddenly, the transformation that is required takes time. The way to become faithful is live faithfully. ... Christian peacemaking makes sense and ceases to be absurd only when it is embedded in a life of faithfulness and practices that arise from our faithfulness. (p.13)