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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

War, memory and civil religion in Australia

Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape ( Fully updated 3rd edition) by K.S. Inglis (Melbourne University Press, 2008)

This is an engaging and revealing work of Australian history that takes you down into the architecture and the community interactions that have shaped the memorialising of Australian engagement in war since the late nineteenth century.

What is particularly interesting from a theological point of view is the evidence it provides on the Christian churches ongoing engagement with a Christendom mentality in entanglement with nationalism and how it has morphed into a peculiarly Australian form of civil religion. The sacred does not disappear it simply migrates and morphs and this migration is largely unrecognised neither by the worshipers and devotees nor by the Christian churches.

According to Inglis the ... cult of Anzac Day warrants the name of civil religion even when the language of conventional religion is avoided or disowned.(445)

What is interesting is that the emergence of this civil religion has received very little attention by theologians - a critique of idolatry and a self critique of the Churches' implication in support of war in Australia is badly overdue.


Gratitude is something that has been an important part of my approach to life - but Simon Barrow has captured this virtue beautifully in the following comments.

Gratitude he says is about ... recognising that the life we share is beyond possession. To see the world and everything in it as God’s creation ... is not to propose a particular theory of origins (certainly not one in unnecessary conflict with the gifts of scientific endeavour and knowledge). It is, rather, to receive the world as sheer gift – specifically, the gift of a God who, having absolutely no need to get caught up in our quarrelling and jockeying for status and influence, is able to love without condition, manipulation and limit.

In this sense, the invitation at the heart of the Christian message is to let go and give thanks. Simple, but incredibly difficult without good teachers, encouragers and exemplars. So, apart from shelter, health and sustenance, what we need most of all in life is people and relationships founded on the recognition that love is not about gaining control, it is about setting free; and that gratefulness is not about being glad we got our own way, it is about being glad that often we do not.

For those of us who are Christian, this is what being joined to the Body of Christ is (or ought to be) all about. Others may discover the same spirit of liberating gratitude is different ways and places. But the light of recognition in our eyes tells us that though our labels may be different, the truth – God’s truth, some of us would say – remains the same.

With gratitude to Simon Barrow "Cultivating Tough Gratitude" June 29, 2009 Ekklesia

William Stringfellow - A True Radical

The re-publication of William Stringfellow's impassioned polemic Dissenter in a Great Society: A Christian View of America in Crisis (Wipf & Stock, 2005) provides with a rearview mirror view of the United States that does not look wildly different from the view looking forward.

Forty years after publication Stringfellow's analysis reads well, His theological perspective stood him in good stead in getting beyond the limits imposed by the spirit of the age.

The Christian political witness is affirming and loving the essential humanity of all in Christ in the midst of man's abdication of human life and despite the whole array of death's assaults against human life.

The Christian political witness is the audacity to trust that God's love for this world's existence is redeeming, so Christians are human beings free to live in this world by grace in all practical matters and decision. (164)

Monday, 29 June 2009

Commemorating the Frontier Wars

Thoughtful article by Dean Ashenden "Battle over a war" on different ways of knowing the past and how this relates to arguments about whether and how the frontier wars in Australia should be includd in the Australian War Memorial. What is interesting is the intrusion of the this debate into the realm of the sacred, something Ashenden notes buts does not fully unpack. Still an important contribution that goes beyond the sound bites of pubic controversy to unpack some of the implicit assumptions about history on both sides of the debate.

More on the issue of civil religion and the australian War Memorial to follow.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Christian anarchists?

I haven't been blogging for a while, finishing off a paper for a conference, more about that later, but will now be catching up, at least with some notes on some of my reading.

Tripp York's Living on Hope while Living In Babylon: The Christian Anarchists of the 20th Century (Wipf @ Stock, 2009) provides an interesting take on some well covered ground on Christianity, theology and politics.

Tripp York places the telling of some stories of Christian political witness in the 20th century, Dorothy Day and the Catholic worker movement, Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm and the Berrigan brothers within the context of a discussion of anarchism and Christian apocalyptic politics.

To those who want a fuller account of the lives and witness of these movements within a theological there is some great reading available that takes you further than is possible in York's brief account. York is helpful in locating the life and witness of these dangerous and disturbing Christians within the context of anarchist thought and Christian apocalyptic politics.

York is developing an argument about what it means to be in the world but not of the world. Such a life is anarchical but is different from the anarchists.

The difference according to York ... lies in the conviction that a Jew from Galilee was raised from the dead in that God's creation might know God. They wanted to share in its resurrection and they wanted to share in it while they were still alive. For it is in Jesus' resurrection that we find hope in the midst of Babylon. (109)

Franz Jagerstatter

The story of Franz Jagerstatter was preserved for us through the work of the sociologist Gordon Zahn. His account of Jagerstatter's life, In Solitary Witness brought us an account of the moral clarity and courage of this Austrian peasant in his refusal to serve in the German army in World War II that has continued to haunt me.

Franz Jagerstatter : Letters and Writings from Prison edited by Erna Putz, Translated into English with Commentary by Robert A Krieg (Orbis Books, 2009) brings us much closer to both Franz and his wife Franziska. Here we have the letters between the couple that have survived as well as a complete collection of his writings, essays, meditations and brief theological reflections.

The letters and writings that Putz has assembled provide us with view of Franz and his wife that does not differ substantially from that provided by Zahn in the 1950s but pulls the picture that Zahn provided into somewhat sharper focus in at least some respects. The correspondence between the couple portrays the depth of their relationship, the concerns about maintaining and operating the farm during his absence and a traditional Catholic piety that was deeply engrained into the pattern of their daily lives.

Jim Forest in the Introduction to the book notes the overlapping presence in Tegel of both Bonhoeffer and Jagerstatter - an occurence that has not been previously noted in print at least prior to my discussion in the Zadok Perspectives article "Voices from Tegel Prison 1943-44: The 'Solitary Witness' to the 'body of Christ' of a Berlin Theologian and an Austrian peasant' (No 93, Summer 2006.

The account of Jagerstatter's spiritual practices in these documents highlights the point I made in that article that while he was solitary in the judgements he reached about the Nazi regime and his refusal to serve in the military his life was deeply shaped by practices of prayer and participation in the liturgrical life of the church and spiritual reading.

The ‘solitary’ character of the witness of these exemplary performers of the faith should not distract our attention from the reality, ... , that their witness was rooted in the disciplines and practices of the church. Both Bonhoeffer and J├Ągerst├Ątter upheld the communal character of the church in a context and location, imprisonment for opposition to an unjust state, where their church communities would not support them, a failure grounded in an ecclesiastical confusion of faith with national identity and expressed in the silence of leadership in the face of a state bent on genocide. (p17)