Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trying to connect the dots, unnecessarily

Another sermon - as seems to be the way of this blog at present! Life is busy and complicated, and good, and bad, and exciting, and challenging, and (in short) not conducive to getting Blog posts written!


So, here's my thought for today taken from these passages (Click for details):


Grace and Meaning

In the words of St Paul, or perhaps St John, or maybe St George, or even St Ringo

“When I was younger, so much younger than today.”

Ah, sorry, couldn’t resist!  No, it’s not a tubby boy story – but just a general reflection that today’s story from the book of Exodus used to cause me great consternation.  Or at least was one of those parts of Scripture that didn’t seem to fit…

I knew the story, the mythological story I am now convinced, of the temptations in the wilderness when Jesus proclaims, quoting Deuteronomy 6 ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’. As I moved into the Anglican Church and got to know the words of the Venite, as Psalm 95 is known in Morning Prayer, I heard the verses ‘harden not your hearts  as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;

When your fathers tempted me,  proved me, and saw my works.

Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, * It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways:

Unto whom I sware in my wrath,  that they should not enter into my rest.”

And I knew that ‘lead us not into temptation’ was better translated ‘save us from the time of trial’ and so the temptation mentioned in the Venite meant that the people of Israel had tested God, they had complained, and God was displeased – as related in our Psalm for today: When the Lord heard this, he was full of wrath; *
“a fire was kindled against Jacob,
and his anger mounted against Israel;
For they had no faith in God, *
nor did they put their trust in his saving power.
So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
 He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.”

In a more contemporary translation it has the word that is the key phrase for me – not ‘so he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven’ but ‘YET he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven.’

We have all this language of God’s anger and wrath, God’s displeasure – because we are not meant to question God, it seems, to test God, to tempt God. YET God provides, abundantly.

And in this came my perplexity.  It seemed a contradiction to my young brain… and not only that, but how did God provide Manna and Quail – and what was Manna?

Lots of people tried to give a pseudo-scientific explanation with regards to freak winds carrying the birds to the camp and some plant whose secretion created a bread like substance for the Israelites to eat.  Others simply said ‘God provides’ – but if that were the case why did God not provide in the same way today to those who were and are in dire straits.

Altogether it was a perplexity – when I was younger, so much younger than today (to quote the Beatleitudes)

But learning that Scripture was not all joined up and didn’t drop out of the sky, like manna, in one miraculous lump.  Learning that our Bibles are composed of myth and legend, metaphor and struggles for meaning let me realise that there is much going on in all of our Scriptural passages that say much more than just a simplistic reading could ever open us up to, liberated me from trying to put all of these contradictions and complications into a nice, easy to understand, package.

For our ancient forebears there was indeed an understanding of the all-powerful nature of God, and the principle that God was not to be questioned and was indeed to be held in awe and worshipped.  Alongside this, however, was the feeling that God did provide, and that as the stories of the wandering tribes of Israel and their amazing survival were passed down, that somehow the journey through the wilderness was sustained by God had to be held up alongside the human propensity for struggle, and complaint, and anger, and hurt, when things are difficult.

And so we have ‘YET’ – Yet God’s love and grace were poured out, despite hardship, the people of Israel survived and held on to that feeling and experience of God’s love and generosity. Despite all the odds YET they found what they considered to be ‘the promised land’ and settled and grew, and even (at times) thrived.

And so the principle of this myth of the manna is not one to try to explain, but to grasp the meaning, which is to remind us of God’s love, freely given. YET God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven’.  May we too know the deeper meaning of our Scriptures, and indeed all of our experiences, and the God who is present in each moment, and with us in all things.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Pride - in the name of love!

Yesterday was the middle of Pride Week here in Victoria and St John's marked it, in partnership with Christ Church Cathedral and our wider Diocese of Islands and Inlets (aka the Diocese of British Columbia), with our regular Eucharist in the morning, and with a special Eucharist in the evening at which our Bishop Logan McMenamie presided and preached. It is a sermon worth sharing - so here's the link to the recording of it:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/stjohnthedivine/episodes/2017-07-06T13_09_14-07_00

Some of what Bishop Logan said related to my own thoughts earlier in the morning - which wasn't recorded, but I have the script, so I thought I would share it here too!


Cast Out

I want to begin by sharing something that you might not know, but it’s important information that I think bears sharing in this hallowed setting. It’s just this – there’s a new Spider-Man movie released this week!

I know, exciting, eh?

It’s the third ‘reboot’ – of the franchise, which was one of the first of the contemporary multi-million dollar superhero movies which now crop up with disturbing regularity.  Movies which I admit, bring some of my teenage dreams to life as they present what my young imagination conceived so powerfully and engagingly.  But despite being a ‘reboot’ –with a new star, a new writing team, even a new studio – it is missing something that is usually a staple of these things.  An origin story, how Spider-man became the hero he his.

Which is odd, because we all need origin stories.  We all need to know our beginnings, and have that sense of purpose which comes from the discovery of our identity and our sense of rootedness in who we are.

Which is exactly what we have in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (see, you knew this was going somewhere!)  An origin story. And it’s a story that has been interpreted in different ways by two of the great cultures of the Middle-East. A story that some would say is in part the foundation of many of the tensions experienced today between Jew and Arab.

Within Arab culture, and particularly within the Islamic tradition- the key players in today’s story are Hagar and Ishmael, who being cast out from Abraham’s tribe a sent to the wilderness, where God hears their cries and sustains them.  In Arabic tradition, Ishmael becomes the founder of the Arab race.

Within Hebrew culture the key players are Abraham and Isaac, as the chosen son will become the inheritor of God’s promise to father many, to be the fulfilment of promise to Abraham and Sarah, and the beginnings of the Jewish peoples.

And the rest, as they say, is history, Or Myth. Or Metaphor. Or something. These stories have defined two peoples attitudes towards themselves and others and continue to be a source of finding identity and of interpreting history.

That’s all very interesting, Rector, you say – but what does that do for us today? What might this story, sunk bone-deep into the cultural narrative of our world, be saying to us today – beyond the need to be aware of our culture’s origin stories, and an interest in the way in which we carry on these stories one way or another.

There are many ways in which we could deconstruct these myths, and in which we could engage intellectually with these stories. But I want to draw us back to consider the feelings within them – and particularly to consider the exclusion which is at the heart of this story, and the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael which is still a part of the life of the people of God today. Sadly.

This week, as you’ll probably know, is Pride week – and here in Victoria, Pride has become something of a celebration of just how far our culture and society has come in embracing and affirming all people regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. As many of the LGBTQ2si people I know would say, there is much to celebrate.  But the work is not done in changing hearts, minds, attitudes and rights for LGBTQ people.  Particularly within the Church we have been guilty of perpetuating a culture where we have cast-out those who we have perceived as ‘different’ to the hetero-normative culture.  And the church still seeks to do so.

For the queer people of faith, this story of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, has a different feel for those of us – even those of us who are affirming and inclusive – who have not been excluded from the life of the church because of who we are.  Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be cast-out.

And so we as a church have to, to use that old fashioned word, repent of that which has excluded and dehumanised anyone.  Even those of us who are part of this inclusive and affirming community need to recognise the harm our institution has done.  Of course, it’s not just LGBTQ people who the church has marginalised and excluded – we have, and do, continue to struggle as a church at large with the racism, sexism, and judgementalism which is an ugly streak within our various traditions. We, as people of faith need to continue to speak truth and justice even within our own traditions – and to be people who speak and act in a way which seeks to create a genuinely inclusive and loving community in which all are welcome and none are cast out.

Which brings me to the Gospel reading.  In this well-known story of the casting of demons into a herd of swine we are confronted, again with a metaphorical story which should make us consider how this reality is played out in our lives.  For though few of us would speak in terms of demonic entities, we can still see the demons which threaten to take control of us – demons of judgementalism, power, control, obsession with money or material goods, of self-absorption to the detriment of others, of fear, of hatred. We see these demons alive and well in our world, and within ourselves.  This is a different type of casting-out, where we need to confront our own prejudice and those attitudes that would judge any as less valuable, less worthy, less lovable than ourselves.  And to learn to see ourselves, as others, fully loved and embraced by God – for often our criticism and condemnation of others comes from not really liking ourselves very much.

So let us, with God’s help, continue our work of self-examination, of challenging ourselves and our institutional attitudes. Of casting out those things which are the demons of our current day, and of learning to include and affirm all people, no matter what their origin story.


And because of the title of this post - let's put this track up as well :-)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Misheard Bible???

So, what is the nature of scripture? Hmmm, good question - and one I have been struggling with for most of my adult life, as I have journeyed through many differing traditions and ended up very much within the liberal, broad part of the church!

I wonder if sometimes our approach to the Bible is somewhat like a misheard song lyric, every now and then we stop and say 'oh, so that's what it says'.  So here's some Peter Kay with some amusing misheard song lyrics (there's a few rude bits, so don't watch if easily offended)


I riffed off of this for today's sermon at St John the Divine, Victoria - as you'll tell if you listen to the podomatic link below, some of it I stole (acknowledged) wholesale, and then moved on to considering exactly what we are doing when we encounter 'bad' bible bits!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Faithfulness - and perhaps a return to blogging?

Remember me? It's been a while, and I've missed you.

I preached a short sermon this morning on a theme which was once very much a part of this blog - so thought I might try and restart the thinking process which was so much of the writings here, and see if I can drop by more regularly than I have.

The theme was 'Faithfulness' - and my usual bugbear that we have conflated faith and belief and placed both under an umbrella of doctrine, or intellect, in a misuse, or misunderstanding, of what both concepts are.  I went through this at some length with regards to writings on the Creed some years back - so here's a much truncated version:


Faithfulness Faith – we talk a lot about it in the Church, funny that.  But we do tend to talk about faith in a very western, very post-enlightenment, very post-reformation way.  We talk about faith as believing, or rather, as intellectually saying yes to a certain set of propositions.  To have faith is, apparently, to believe certain doctrines, certain statements that we think we can say yes to ‘God as creator’ check; Jesus as incarnate, God made human, check; Virgin birth, ermmmmm, well maybe check; physical resurrection of Jesus, check; etc etc. And if you get a certain magic number of these sorted in our brains, then OK, we consider ourselves believers, one of the faithful. A person of faith. 
But that doesn’t seem to be the way our Scriptures talk about believing, or being faithful.  Being faithful involves chopping animals in half and walking between them – or in the case of Abram’s vision, floating between them.  So there you are. 
Or as my son, Jack says, “say whhhaaaattt?” 
Let me try and give a little background – at least share some of the background I was given on this Hebrew Scripture some while back.
There were various rituals that went with some of the tribal covenants of the ancients – one of them was a symbolic act of rending certain animals in half, as we read of in today’s passage from Genesis, and then walking between the the two halves of the carcasses.  This was to symbolise the commitment of faithfulness between two parties – saying that if one betrayed the trust of the other then he or she deserved to be ripped in two just like the animals.  Kind of brutal, but it makes a point! 
And that’s the story we see here today.   And the powerful part of the story is that it is God that initiates and makes the promise, who in Abram’s vision passes between the animal s in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking pot.  A precursor perhaps of the image of the pillar of flame and the pillar of cloud in the Exodus story to come later on in Israel’s mythology. 
The image is of remaining faithful to a vow, a covenant, a promise, a relationship. Faithful as we are called to be faithful in love and commitment to one another in our relationships, faithful as we seek to be to the values to which we are called, faithful in love, trust, service. Perhaps we should stop talking of faith and of belief altogether, and talk instead of faithfulness.  Because that is what faith is really about. 
I have mentioned before that even the word belief does not mean what we often take it to mean – the old English meaning of the word is be-leif, to be committed to, to cling to, to hold someone closely!  That’s a lot more visceral, a lot more to do with our gut than with our head – a lot harder than checking off a list in our heads and deciding that, yes, I think I have a critical mass which allows me to call myself a believer.
It’s about how we feel more than what we have decided we assent to. How we act, rather than how well we speak.
That’s not to say that our faith should be thoughtless, or that wrestling with these things in our minds as well as our hearts is not an important part of what it means to be faithful. On the contrary, the search for meaning, and the struggle with that question which is the basis for all we are as Christ followers ‘where is God in all of this?’ is an important one to keep front and center in our minds as we encounter this world in all its wonder and all of its brokenness, in all of its beauty, and harshness, and hope, and fear. 
But faith is not an intellectual exercise, instead I would say it is an attitude of the heart. I believe we are called to recognise the loving faithfulness of God and respond with our own commitment to the life of the Divine – seeking to find what that means as we live lives faithfully.  I believe we are called, as today’s short thought from the Gospel reminds us, to bear good fruit – living lives which show the presence of the loving God who is faithful to us – and (to carry on the metaphor from our Hebrew Scriptures) is torn apart by our lack of love towards one another and towards Godself.
I believe – and by this I mean I cling closely to – that we are called to have the faithfulness of Jesus, not to believe in Jesus as we often have the words of the original Greek text translated.  Again, not to join in a certain form of anti-intellectualism that has, and does, permeated the Church, but to push back against the primacy of rationalism that has also tipped the balance in favour of rationality and philosophy at the expense of lived, prayed, engaged, loving, experience. 
We are called to be faithful, as God is faithful. Committed to our walk with Christ, as God is committed to walking with us – to being present for, around, within us.  We are called to live in such a way that we know and show the love of God.  May we be faithful.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Some thoughts on Glory

So today, again, I was presiding at the Eucharist for Recovery - 12 Step Communion at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. It's always a welcome space for reflection and prayer and the opportunity for a short 'mini-sermon' gives me the chance to touch on a subject and, hopefully, begin the process of engaging with a subject rather than trying to give too many answers.  The thoughts below are my reflections on the reading set for today - John Chapter 11 verses 1-10


The Glory of God

How do you picture glory? Lots of bling? Lots of bright light? Big ancient buildings full of beauty and art and tradition? Huge skyscrapers or outstanding buildings? Is it the wonder of nature, mountains and cliffs? Or is it the pinnacles of human achievement, in sport , or business, or entertainment, or music, or art?

We often associate glory with ‘big and impressive’.  Or outstanding beauty.  When we talk of the glory of God we think in terms of a God who is great and powerful and wonderful and overwhelming – who is AWESOME (to use one of my favourite west coast terms in its proper way)

But how does Jesus – God in the flesh – talk about glory? He prays, in today’s reading, that God is glorified in the work he, Jesus, did.  And that the work of glory is to bring fullness of life to people.

How was that done? By parades and processions, outstanding artwork and buildings, by splendour and majesty?

 The glory Christ showed, the life he shared was found in washing the feet of his friends.It was found in reaching out to the unlovely and unloved.  It was found in the healing, and blessing, and praying, and loving Jesus did. It was found in tears and laughter, in eating together, in teaching and learning. And ultimately the Glory of God is seen on the cross, where the cost of love is shown.

In words attributed to Ireneus of Lyon, a saint from the second century, we hear "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God” – in more contemporary language we might put it like this “The glory of God is a human being fully alive."

By this we see God’s glory, when there is healing for our brokenness, hope in despair, joy out of sadness. Wherever there is a movement towards wholeness, there is a movement towards holiness – and God’s glory shines.

 God’s glory doesn’t shine only in pomp and ceremony, but every movement any one of us makes towards God’s desire for our healing is an act of glory, where the wonder of God is made present.It may not feel like it – but the glory of God is in the dirt, and struggle, and death that leads to resurrection.  And God’s spirit is right there, working with and in us as we open ourselves up to the glory of God, as we learn, and re-learn God’s love for us even at rock bottom.

Even at our worst. When we feel nothing but shame and failure, God’s love is there for us, accepting, affirming, inspiring, healing – and in turning to that love. we are a part of the glory of God working in our world.

Jesus knew things would be tough for his followers, in today’s reading he is praying before his death, and it is only through the death of the cross that we get to the new life of resurrection. And it is only then through Christ leaving his disciples that we get to the point we will celebrate this Sunday as the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people – whether or not they – or we - feel worthy of it.

This is the glory of God, found in healing and welcome, inclusion and new life, found in the hard things which Jesus friends would encounter as Jesus prayed “I have been glorified in them.” that acceptance of new life, by recognising Christ in the trials and by moving towards healing, then Christ is glorified in us.

As we move to fullness of life in Christ, we will indeed be able to be examples of God’s glory, For the glory of God is a human being fully alive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Another unshared sermon - Proclaiming Healing

And here's my sermon from the Tuesday in Holy Week service for healing that we have as part of our lead up to the Triduum at St John the Divine


Proclaiming healing

As you probably know, I grew up a full on, high octane, almost Fundamentalist Conservative Evangelical.  I was high on salvation, and down on sinners, I was big on Jesus’ blood, and knew little of social justice. I was keen on songs, and not so good on theology, I was content to condemn people to some kind of eternal punishment but not so sure about grace being for those outside the church….

And I carried a WHOLE load of guilt around about readings such as our one this evening.  A reading which told me to go out, or so it was interpreted, and tell everyone about Jesus, and let them know that they were going straight to hell if they didn’t believe the right stuff in the right way.

At least that’s what I thought the 70 disciples of Jesus were doing when I read about them, or heard about them in my swinging-from-the-chandeliers-rock-n-roll-we’re- all-going-to heaven-lads-waheey church in my later teens.  And I think I was terrified because I was being told that it was no simple harvest, but there were ravening wolves out there waiting to tear my little lamb-like self to shreds.    I think I was terrified also because I was being told to ‘preach’ at these people…

How wrong I was.

I was wrong both in what the message of this story from Luke’s Gospel is, and in my own understanding of how faith, real faith, real love, real peace, is received by a world beyond the walls of our churches. And by what we, as the bearers of Christ to the world, are called to do.

When we see the message Jesus gives to his disciples to share it begins not with ‘you’re all going to hell, folks, unless you believe in Jesus’, nor was it the still popular ‘you must be convicted of your sinfulness’ which so many Christians seem to continue to delight in – nope, Jesus begins with ‘peace be with you’.  And the calling he gave to the disciples was not to evangelise, in the narrow understanding of the word as I had been told it, the message was ‘be satisfied with what people give you, cure the sick, and point towards the life of Christ’.

This is the very essence of our healing ministry.  Reaching out, learning contentment, praying for healing, pointing towards Christ.

The healing ministry of the church, as I have said a number of times in this past three years (I checked my old sermons…) is not to do miracles, or at least not the kind of miracles that many of those who claim to be healers talk of.  I believe miraculous things can happen when we are open to the divine within, between, and around us – though I might have a different interpretation of what a miracle is than the signs and wonders movement I belonged to once.

The miracle of Christ’s healing is found in the touch of love for those who feel unlovely and unloved.

The miracle of Christ’s healing comes from the energy of the Spirit that is shared in the healing touch.

The miracle of Christ’s healing is found in listening, opening ourselves up to divine encounter and allowing ourselves to be transformed from within.
The miracle of Christ’s healing is peace, and grace, and faith, and hope, and love.

And the miracle of Christ’s healing is shared.  It’s not undertaken by special or specialised individuals – clergy or otherwise – but by all those open to the working of the Spirit of God.

This miracle is our proclamation – but not a proclamation of words, more of presence, more of prayer, more of learning to be Christ in the world – through the indwelling and energising of the Holy Spirit within us.

The calling to healing is the calling to be people of peace, the true healing – shalom – the wholeness which God offers. The calling to healing is to be prophets, declaring the presence of God who is all in all.  the calling to healing is to be open ourselves to the healing power of Christ and to live into that healing as we share it with those who surround us and those who we meet.

And the ultimate calling is to point to the life which Christ offers us, the healing which is offered to all peoples and to be able to say, with grace and love, the kingdom, the reign, the presence of God, has come near.  Share with me as we reach out to touch it, to receive the Divine healing and comfort which is open to all.

It’s still somewhat scary, as it involves being open to God and open to one another – but it is a journey taken in partnership – with the community of healing and faith which is the church, and with our Divine Creator, the wounded healer who is Christ, and the comforter who is the spirit.

And as we reach out to one another in this act of healing today, we are proclaiming in our healing touch and in our prayers for one another: Look, the kingdom of God has come near to you.

Thanks be to God. Amen

A sermon that didn't get shared elsewhere - Yelling At God

Once every month or so I get the great privilege of presiding and preaching at the Tuesday Afternoon 12-Step Recovery Eucharist at our Cathedral: Christ Church Victoria.  It's a quiet, healing, thoughtful Eucharist at which I normally offer a few thoughts... I'm sure I speak more than most visitors, but I've never really got the hang of 'reflection' - I seem to be much better at 'chatter'.

So here's my thinkings from last week...


Yelling at God

In this Holy Week – leading up to Good Friday and finally to Easter, we are confronted with the stark reality of human suffering. We see suffering in the last hours of Jesus (traditionally known as ‘The Passion’ – which comes from the Latin Passio, meaning suffering, or enduring) but we also get a glimpse, as in today’s Psalm, of the suffering that all of us go through, which is also a part of the reflection of this Holy Week.

In today’s Psalm the writer, we don’t know who it is, but many of the Psalms are traditionally considered to be the work of King David, is struggling.  He (or perhaps she) feels beset by those who speak and work against him or her.  “Rescue me, O God, from the hands of the wicked’ they call out to the Lord.  And then the writer goes into some detail about the troubles they are undergoing, where it feels that everyone is against them, trapping them, trying to trip them up.  Before ending with a commitment: “I will hope continually, and will praise you more and more.”

We see something of that in Jesus’ words today too, from the Gospel  of John. Jesus sees that the end of his ministry will be his death ‘unless a grain of wheat falls in the ground and dies it remains but a single seed’ he says, hinting at the end result of his own life.  He talks of his soul being troubled, but  also proclaims that God will be glorified even in this.

“And the point you want to make is?” you may ask.

There’s a strand within Christian faith that seems to want to say that everything is OK, it’ll all be alright in the end, it’s fine, God is in control – and, yes, we do believe that there is nothing in this world or any other beyond the touch and the presence of God. You can get the ‘it’ll all be fine’ message from certain parts of Scripture, maybe even from todays’ readings.  But more deeply than that, at the heart of both the Hebrew and Christian traditions there is a profound and powerful statement – that it’s OK not to be OK.  And it’s OK to let God know that.  Even, sometimes, to shout at God.  God can take it.
Our scriptures and our tradition are filled with people who cried out to God, who expressed their anger, their frustration, their pain, their loss, their devastation and despair.  The cry of Jesus from the Cross distils this into one powerful exclamation “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  That overwhelming feeling of abandonment coming from the one who was the personification of the divine, the Son of Man,  the one who we know as Son of God.

It’s OK to yell at God.

You don’t need my permission to do so – but sometimes we need to hear that.  God can take what we bring, good and bad, that we can express our deepest desires and our deepest fears. That we can know God in the light and in the darkness which is within and around us.

All things are within God.  That does not mean that God sends us all things or is trying to use all things, or that suffering is God’s way to teach us a lesson.  Rather the Scripture says that God is with us in the best and the worst that we experience. God is beside us, and understands the pain we feel, and feels it with us.

The message of Good Friday, when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus, is – at its heart – a message that says that God is not distant or remote, that God knows the true pain of suffering.  God is not detached, but involved intimately in all we go through.

So, it’s OK to yell, and to cry, and to feel all the things we feel when life is tough.  It’s not just OK to share that with God, God longs for us to reach out to God whatever we are going through.  And the message of our Bibles and of our faith is that God is with us. God loves us. God gives us the resources and the strength to get us through all of these things.  And then, as we pass through these difficulties, as we know the love and presence of God, then we can commit ourselves – as our Psalmist did, and as Jesus did in his own walk – to facing each day knowing that the love of God, the life of Christ and the power of the Spirit are with us in our pain as well as in our joys.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St Patrick on the radio

Actually, it was me on the radio, earlier today, talking ABOUT St Patrick, so here it is in all it's SoundCloud glory - starting at about 18 minutes and lasting for 10 or so minutes:
 

Happy St Patrick's Day

A little thought for the feast day of St Patrick...

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Singing and Saying what we do (or don't) believe??!!!

A number of conversations, particularly centered around a hymn chosen for this past Sunday, have prompted me to resurrect this blog... or a least post something, just this time, maybe with a hope to dropping by every now and then with a thought or two.

Oh, I'm well, thanks. Life at St John the Divine, Victoria, continues apace.  There are some immensely good people and immensely good things going on here, and those I am privileged to work with and alongside are a blessing to me.  I have been writing every day for Lent on the church website, and often find that rather than returning here, many of my thinkings end up on the staff blog there.  You'll also find many of my thoughts on the sermon podcast (as well as some very fine preachings from my colleagues) as well.

So, back to the hymn.  The hymn in question was 'And Can It Be?' - a great Wesleyan Ode to the redemptive work of God in Christ.

 Here's a Songs of Praise (UK TV show) version:


It's a hymn that takes its imagery and narrative of atonement from a very clearly 'Jesus blood was shed for us' (aka Penal Substitution) viewpoint, and it's safe to say that as a liberal, progressive congregation there are very few (including the Rector) who would use such language to describe what happened on the Cross - an event that the Church spends a lot of time meditating upon at this time of year.  And yet I was happy to sing it, indeed I really enjoyed singing it, enthusiastically and joyfully.

Why so?

For the same reason that I don't skip the Creed in Church on a Sunday, why I don't have any difficulty with using a rite of penitence in the Eucharist, and why I continue to read all the Scriptures, including the bits that set my teeth on edge, in Church - not just a selection of the ones I like. Because there's more to this whole story than the bits I agree with.  I am part of a greater community, a greater narrative, a greater mystery, than my relatively puny intellect can manage.

When I join in the worship of the Church I don't do so for my own entertainment, nor to bolster my own point of view. I do so to be a part of community, a community that existed long before me, and will exist long after I am gone.  I may interpret and understand in different ways to that which my forebears in faith did, to those who walk that road alongside me, and to those who are to come - but I am challenged to not just align myself with those who think (or look, or sound) like me, but to embrace the breadth of humanity that makes up the Church.


Also, I am growing in my ability to embrace metaphor, poetry, imagery; the depth and breadth of human condition.  I don't take Scripture literally, but recognise the layers and multiple meanings that are within our holy books.  I don't take Creeds literally, but echo Bishop Spong's understanding that they are 'love songs to God' from our forebears. I don't take prayers literally - as I don't believe that our hearts have knees, or that they can be raised up, or that they actually burn within us.  I don't think hymns or songs need to be taken literally either; I don't think that Jesus danced in front of the scribes and pharisees, I don't think that I am going to put on breastplate and sword, I don't think that I am in a dungeon. (Tell me in the comments if you've spotted the three hymns referenced there).

We do alter some of our hymns and songs, particularly in terms of inclusivising the language within them - and I realise that we have had an imbalance in our language in the Church where our language to refer to the Divine has been almost exclusively masculine.  We don't change all of our hymns, though, as many of these texts have an integrity of their own, and offer a poetic and metaphorical sense that we are in danger of losing if we are overly prosaic about our use of language.

I also recognise that I need to be challenged, even offended, by Scripture and by the Tradition of the Church - in order that I can come from an informed, thoughtful perspective when I disagree with a particular interpretation or understanding.  If I hit a brick wall (metaphorically speaking) when I hear a bible verse (take this Psalm - 137 - for instance, and read the the last verse carefully) then I need to know that it is OK to question, to challenge, to be shocked, and to come to a different conclusion to the writer.  It's the same with hymns and prayers - we need the tools, the freedom, to disagree, but to do so from a place of understanding and wisdom and not only a visceral, or knee-jerk, place.

So yes, there will be things I find myself saying, or singing, in Church that my intellect doesn't get, or agree with. I can still say these things with enthusiasm knowing that God does not need my approval, or even my understanding, that there is mystery and depth beyond my capacity to grasp. I can glean from these things - good and bad - meaning for my own walk with Christ; for instance the sheer exuberant joy and sense of freedom in the Wesley hymn lifted my spirit even as it challenged my theological grounding.

And if I do have all the answers, and a perfect liturgy, hymnody, and style of service to satisfy all of my theological and personal quirks, I'll let you know: but I can guarantee that it's only me that will like it.