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Sunday, 29 November 2009

The southern emergence of the Christian future

Evidence for Philip Jenkins focus on the southern emergence of Christianity and its impact on the future of world affairs can pop up in the strangest places. the following is a striking example.

At the recent Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay, the new MWC President Danisa Ndlovu, bishop of the Brethren in Christ church in Zimbabwe, embraced Ishmael Noko from Zimbabwe, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, after Noko spoke of the Lutherans' plans to ask forgiveness of Lutheran persecution of anabaptists in the 16th century.

Advent: Hope for the long haul

Hope is on of the key themes of Advent, a season that makes little sense to many in a consumer oriented post Christendom culture.

Hope is not a wishful emotion that things will get better. Hope requires the discipline of facing reality over the long haul and shaping our lives in ways that are appropriate to sustain that hope. The discipline for example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer committing himself to building community, encouraging those who sought to enter into marriage and build families in the midst of war while committing himself to action to overthrow the Nazi Regime, or the discipline of a Dorothy Day whose discipleship was marked by "a long obedience" of building community, practising hospitality and resisting violence.

Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist and no mean theologian in his own way, who wrote books on both Bonhoeffer and Day, comments on the discipline required for a lived out hope that is focused on the life of Jesus:
Faith has to do with time, with moral anticipation. We are the creatures who look forward, struggle with time's constraints and possibilities. We are the creatures who wonder: what next, and why, and what to do, and whither—again, our time-bound selves demonstrating moral inquiry.

The psalmist pleads for God's instruction. The prophet foresees days of righteous glory, a welcome change indeed from the iniquity he has noticed so scrupulously and condemned with all his might and considerable eloquence. The disciple recalls Jesus himself telling of the future—its promise, but its mystery, too; and the disciple links the future to the present, as do the Old Testament teachers, who know that to wait is to watch—oneself as well as the skies for their signs. Finally, the itinerant early convert yearns for that great, blessed day, a reunion with God, and as his predecessors did, connects that future with the continuing present of our collective lives: how shall we live if we are to meet God and his judgment?

...what really matters is not the beauty and cogency of a particular moment (a poem, for instance, a sermon, yet another book...) but the way we bear ourselves over the long haul of things.

Christianity is the story of simple people following in their naked blindness an itinerant rabbi, scorned and soon enough killed. Christianity offers rural homilies and peasant parables, and not especially elegant riddles. Christianity offers hope all right, but lots of fear and worry, and certainly no solace for the high and mighty. Christianity offers the birth of a child—God become human; the extended test of time which a given life, his life, offered people long ago.

Sojourners Advent resources

Saturday, 14 November 2009

U2 - theology

I have been meaning for quite a while to compile some resources on theological responses to U2.

This is meant to be a first stage of a literature review and perhaps an article at a later date. So here we go. There are a number of different approaches that have been taken to this issue:

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman (New edition, Relevant Books, 2005)

Sermons on U2 lyrics
Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue edited by Raewynne J Whitely & Beth Maynard
(Cowley Publications, 2003)

Theological reflections inspired by U2

Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall by Stephen Catanzarite (Continuum, 2007)

Theological Readings of U2 
Religious Nuts and Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective by Robert Vagacs (Cascade Books, 2005)

One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen (Brazos Press, 2006)

We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2 by Greg Garrett (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009)

Beth Maynard U2 Sermons Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. It started with a book. We're still watching it happen.

 Occasio - U2 Theology sermons category

Learning the truth - remembering the frontier wars and what happened in the NT gulf country

Kim Beazley raised a difficult issue in a Remembrance Day speech at the Australian War Memorial this past week.

Aboriginal people who fought European settlers during Australia's colonisation should be recognised alongside diggers who have served overseas, former opposition leader Kim Beazley says.

In a Remembrance Day speech at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Beazley called for the creation of "interpretation centres" and memorials to recognise the frontier wars.

A graphic account of the frontier wars in the gulf country of the Northern Territory up until 1910 was provided by Tony Roberts in "The Brutal Truth: What happened in the Gulf Country" in the November 2009 issue of The Monthly. What is particularly striking in his account of the death of more than 600 men, women and children in this area is the demonstrated complicity of the South Australian Government in this series of massacres. A copy is up on the Monthly web site Brutal Truth.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Do not forget

Remembrance Day has more than one point of reference - it can serve as a trigger not to forget.

Richard Franklin and Peter Lewis point out the dialectic of remembering and forgetting in their reflection on the signficiance of 11 November. In  Lest we forget a cruel act of dispossession they remind us that:

... an anniversary that has been forgotten is one that has even more relevance for understanding the ironies of Australian identity.

Eleven years before the hanging of Ned Kelly and 140 years ago this year, the Victorian colonial government passed an act ''To Provide for the Protection and Management of the Aboriginal Natives of Victoria'', more commonly known as the Aborigines Protection Act 1869.

This gave government control of where Aboriginal people could live, of how they would relate to Europeans, of their labour and earnings and of the ''care, custody and education'' of all Aboriginal children. It was this act that created the conditions for Aboriginal containment and assimilation, and its legal platform enabled policies that led to the stolen generations and stolen wages.

For us it raises an interesting question - why have we so rarely included this anniversary in our remembering?

After all, the Aboriginal soldiers who fought bravely at the very same battlefront that we rightly remember each and every November 11 were cruelly affected by the echoes of the 1869 act. This allowed them to be denied some of their earnings as soldiers and prevented access to Soldier Settlement land.

Despite the sacrifice of Aboriginal soldiers in the First World War, they still had their wages ''garnished'' and, unless they had official certificates saying they weren't Aboriginal, they could not access the Soldier Settlement scheme. In some cases, they returned to see their traditional homelands provided to non-indigenous soldiers as part of the scheme.

Even today the imprint of this act remains as a stain on our national character. Our ready forgetting of this anniversary is symptomatic of our failure as a nation to come to terms with our shared history.
This failure to remember is why the business of reconciliation remains unresolved, the ''close the gap promise'' remains dormant and the national apology is just another unfulfilled promise, as Government intentions to close the gap between the first and second peoples of Australia in child mortality, longevity, health and other wellbeing measures are swallowed up in bureaucracy.

Have we forgotten that ''sorry'' is the first step towards reconciliation, not the last?

Remembering the Aborigines Protection Act 1869 is important because it recalls a time when Aboriginal people were cut off from the rest of the community and from their land and culture.

Defending God?

Joe Hockey in a speech at the Sydney Institute has laid out his account of his understanding of what a secular multi faith society is in the Australian context.

 From my perspective a secular society respects all faiths and accepts that no religious organisation should seek to impose its views on the functions of government.

Secularity does not mean that we should seek to diminish the role that faith and religion play in the lives of the majority of Australians. Nor does it mean that the State should be precluded from supporting the work of religious institutions where they are contributing constructively to the community – be it in the provision of social services, education or welfare.

His closing lines summarise the drift of his argument:

What we as a society must not do is allow our secularity to be a reason for ignoring those who are truly inspirational just because they are people of faith.

A believer and a non-believer can learn from those who have trodden this Earth inspired by their religion and dedicated to their fellow men and women.

Tonight I have sought to share my views on the importance of faith. As a liberal, my view is that faith is not something that can or should be imposed by government or politicians. It will however influence my words and my deeds.

A secular society imbued with the values that faith engenders will be stronger not weaker.

And Australia is all the richer when it accepts that the values that the great religions teach are the burning beacon of a just, fair and compassionate society based on truth and respect for our own humanity.

On Hockey's account he is as much a follower of Mill as anyone and interprets the right of "religions" to participate within this particular account of how society should function. This account does not grapple with the tension between the individualising thrust of liebralism that leaves nothing effectively between the individual in their choice and the power of the state and the market and the communal roots of faith traditions that underpin the vierutes that he values as being critical for the functioning of society.

I read it as being largely staking out the ground against the fundamentalist religionists within his own party. For another assessment see the discussion by Barney Swartz Religion editor of the Age newspaper, The Gospel According to Joe.

Learning to Remember - gathering for the Eucharist

Simon Barrow in his discussion of remembrance and Remembrance Day has some really useful things to day in his account of the rich connections between this theme and the practices at the heart of Christian discipleship.

At the heart of the Christian community’s faith, constitution and action is the painful paradox of a violent death remembered. When the church gathers around the communion table, whatever other disagreements it may have about this act, it remains the case that the memory of Jesus, his living and dying, is central.

The Christian belief in resurrection, the conviction that this death is woven substantially into a greater pattern of life wrought by God, does not remove or excise this memory of death. Indeed in certain respects it makes it more poignant.

In the New Testament accounts of the encounter between the early Christian disciples and the Jesus who they came to believe had not been contained or defined by death, there is a powerfully transformative image. The Risen Christ retains the marks and scars of crucifixion. He does not ‘lose’ them.

For Christians, the life-beyond-life to which Christ points, embodies and expresses is not an evasion. It does not abolish death and suffering, it transfigures it, placing it into a new context. Every tear may be wiped away in God’s future, but that which causes tears of unutterable grief has happened and, in this sense, remains potently with us. The critical issue is, what gives or shapes that particular sense? Which is the ultimate context, death or life? Believers and non-believers are bound to have a different estimate of this question.

In human experience it is death which has the last word, because we have no capacity to experience anything beyond its boundary. If we are to remain open to the possibility of divine life, of love which is finally accountable neither to our death dealing nor even to our gloriously garish attempts at living, this openness will occur not as a hypothesis but as an action in which what has been broken is gathered and re-offered for the life of the world.

This is what Eucharistic remembrance and thanksgiving is all about. Its essence is not a ritual or a doctrine but a communal invitation to a new way of living in the face of death. It is a meal of hope, of the sharing and multiplication of life. It heals our memories. But it only makes sense if the wounds we remember – in order not to avoid them, but to understand their real depth – belong to the Living One, and to the Body (the community of human suffering and joy) to which we are united in baptism (the granting of a new identity), prayer (the petition of the sovereignty of love) and action for justice and peace (the sacrament, the genuine foretaste, of a new world coming).

All of this is involved in specifically Christian remembering. And it is of absolutely crucial importance for acting Christianly in the arena of war and peace – where justifying and joining in with war can be the chief expression that, when all is said and done, what we believe in most is the sovereignty of death.

Likewise, peace (wrongly conceived) may be yet another means of avoiding the confrontation with deathly fear which comes from being simply ‘anti-war’, rather than being incorporated into any genuine alternative to the society that goes on remembering and (therefore) reacting in a warlike way.

So the issue is not, in the first instance, whether you are an advocate of pacifism or ‘just war’ thinking, it is about remembering death in the context of the search for life and the gift of life. This is what Christians are called upon to do, not out of 'political correctness' (as some are suggesting), but in recognition of the central facts of their faith in Christ crucified and risen.

Not to make space for the agonistic and the conflictual in our public, as well as private, remembrance, is bad for our health. It also falls dangerously short of what is involved in Eucharistic memory. All too often it is emotion, not reason; vested interests, not truthfulness, which are most powerfully at play in the ritual and symbolism of official remembering – a point which Christians should never forget, given how the image of the Cross has been used to buttress conquest and crusading in our own, deeply flawed history ...

 ... the churches need to re-think their own approach to Remembrance. What they have sanctioned in civic ceremonies and within their own walls has often failed to reflect the dynamic of the Gospel towards peace, love of enemies, forgiveness, and the disavowal of violence.

War may produce favourable results in some circumstances, but history shows that it is not a solution, it is a tragedy, and often a sheer waste. The best way to honour those who have died as a result of war (as we must do) - is to recognise its horror not in order to 'run away', but in order to have the true courage to seek alternatives and to engage in costly peacebuilding - to re-member a dis-membered world. (Transforming Remembrance into Hope)

Who are the real subversives?

Fred Nile in commentary on the shooting massacre at Fort Hood stated:

Australians would like to be assured that our defence forces have in place a system of assessment and review which would identify any person whose adherence to any alien ideology might one day override loyalty to mates and loyalty to the Crown," Mr Nile said.

I thought initially that he might be going to mention Christians, who after all are supposed to be followers of Jesus, people who would adhere to that alien ideology that Jesus announced in the Sermon on the Mount about loving enemies etc. No such luck - Muslims got the guernsey. an what we have here looks like the automatice assumption of a Christendom lockstep between Christianity and the powers that be.

If he is serious about having such a test then it should be applied to Christians as well given the subversive teachings of their leader.

If this statement means, however, that the Rev Nile cannot envisage that adherence by Christians to that "alien ideology" could never override loyalty to mates and loyalty to the Crown then something is drastically wrong with his understanding of the call to Christian discipleship and that should be a matter of some concern and subject to fraternal dialogue within his church community.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Unsettling our judgements about status and desert

The Gospel reading this morning from Mark 12 about Jesus sitting around in the Temple observing who was giving and how much they were giving to the Temple collection raises some interesting issues.

One of them is the simple fact that Jesus was just sitting around observing what was going on. He was interested in what people were doing and how they were relating to this central institution in Jewish life.

Jesus made the observation to his disciples following his observation of rich people putting in a lot of money and a widow putting in a couple of low value coins. "I tell you this widow has put in more than all the others. Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn't have a penny to live on."

What is Jesus up to here? Is he commending what the widow has done? After all she is someone with no status, no access to economic resources and totally dependent on the community provision through the laws related to gleaning and provision from the harvest leftovers.

What right did she have we might think seeing that she is dependent upon the limited social welfare system to go giving away what little she had? Is she moving herself out of the ranks of the deserving poor into the undeserving poor because of her extravagance on the religious front? I can imagine that there were those in the Temple hierarchy who would have assented to this judgment.

Was Jesus commending the widow? The text isn't clear but there is no doubt that her generosity is acknowledged by Jesus and her status is elevated compared to that of the rich people who give what is left over. It's a commendation of some sort with the implication that.

But think about the equivalent scenario today. It is as though a single Aboriginal mother on Centrelink benefits has gone and given away her last $10 to a World Vision appeal for victims of earthquake in Indonesia and will have to go to the Salvation Army for food for the next couple of days till her next payment is due.

Is she still one of the "deserving poor" or has she removed herself from that category because of her extravagance in giving away what little she had and increasing her reliance on the generosity of the community?

There is something unnerving and unsettling about Jesus and the observations he makes here.  Our easy certainties about status and desert are brought into question. There is a further sting  which we miss because the chapter division used by the lectionary cuts off the reading at this point.  Immediately afterward at the start of the next block of readings as Jesus leaves the Temple he speaks of the edifice being torn down, a judgment on the entire Temple system. Whatever our assessment of who is or is not deserving we are all subject to the questioning of God's justice.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Remembering well

Remembrance Day in Australia has been just about lost to public view given the focus on Anzac Day.

The War Memorial Web site has a helpful account of the history of Remembrance Day and suggests that we take a minutes silence at 11am on 11 November to " remember those who died or suffered for Australia's cause in all wars and armed conflicts."

This raises a good question about remembering. Christians are called to remember and to re-member Jesus, as we do in coming to share a meal together, who refused to use violence to bring in God's kingdom. How should Christians remember war? This is an important issue for Christians in Australia given the emergence of Anzac Day as the manifestation of a form of civil religion.

Ekklesia in the UK have just produced a very useful report Reimagining Remembrance Day that though it adresses the specific issues related to Remembrance Day in the UK provides some useful theological insights that are relevant to the task of how christians might remember Anzac Day.

Some of the issues that churches could address include:

• A greater equality in remembrance to incorporate all those affected by war, including those on both sides and civilians, conscientious objectors, and those executed for ‘cowardice’
• The language used in remembrance should be more truthful. Words like ‘glorious’ should no longer be used. There should also be an acknowledgement that some did “die in vain” and an end to automatic references about all soldiers giving “their lives for the freedom we enjoy today”.
• Churches should resist the misappropriation of religious language in remembrance. Where it is used it should be qualified carefully, particularly with regard to words like “sacrifice”, which should not be used to condone violence.
• Following other examples from around the world a far greater commitment should be made to peace
• Churches that have bishops and chaplains to the armed forces, should also provide them for the “unarmed forces”, those who work as peacemakers and peacebuilders without weapons
• Remembrance should encompass groups who are often excluded. The environmental impact of war, including ecological damage and millions of animals slaughtered should also be more widely acknowledged

• There should be an end to ‘selective remembrance’ where the more shameful aspects of war are forgotten Ekklesia

Churches who seriously took up this agenda would find themselves in conflict with the RSL in short order. This might be no bad thing as there are serious issues of theological integrity at stake here for the churches. It would also make clear that we have reached an end of the Christendom settlement and any automatic alignment of church and nation.