Category Archives: theology blog

Why “Pride”?

In the Northern hemisphere Summer, it’s “Pride” month. It’s important politics and good fun. But the name “Pride” has always grated on me. Isn’t pride a sin, after all?
My friend Dan Sloan has an answer: “Well, actually in the Koine Greek of the New Testament, the sin of Pride is either ὑπερηφανία (Mark 7:22) or ὕβρις (2 Cor 12:10) which mean ‘arrogance’ or ‘hubris’ respectively. The way we’re using ‘Pride’ is closer to πεποίθησις (2 Cor 3:4) or παρρησία (Phl 1:20) which mean ‘confidence’ or ‘courage/bravery’. Gay Pride started because gay people found the παρρησία to fight back when the police tried to raid a gay bar simply because it was a gay bar. If you read the New Testament carefully you’ll see that πεποίθησις and παρρησία to face adversity are consistently depicted as good traits rather than sinful.”
I’m a passable theologian but hopeless Bible scholar, so that’s helpful, thanks Dan.

A past redeemed

Father Michael Lapsley SSM (now leader of the Institute for Healing of Memories is a remarkable teacher. He was an anti-aparthied campaigner and chaplain to the ANC when his hands and one eye were destroyed in 1990 by a letter-bomb most likely in a covert operation of the apartheid regime. [He has prosthetic ‘hands’.) What follows is from a conversation he had with Rowan Williams at https://stethelburgas.org/”>St Ethelburga’s in London:

"In our Christian faith, we say, ‘By His wounds we are healed,’ and of course we often speak of the wounded healer. Let me tell a personal story which, while amusing, speaks to the issue of how we perceive woundedness and whether we see it as incapacitating or enlivening.

"I was bombed in Zimbabwe and then was moved to a hospital in Australia. Before I left for Australia, my bishop came to visit me and prayed for my recovery. Seven months later and now recovered, I returned to his office in Zimbabwe and said, ‘Here I am, Father.’ The bishop looked startled. At first I imagined perhaps he wasn’t used to God answering his prayers, but then he said, ‘But you are disabled now. What can you do?’ So I said, ‘Well, Bishop, I can drive a car.’ Then he looked frightened. I think he thought he might be on the same road with me. So I said, ‘Father, I think I can be more of a priest with no hands than I ever was with two hands.’ When I inquired of Archbishop Tutu, I got quite a different response. He said, ‘Come and work in Cape Town. I have one priest who is deaf and one who is blind, and now one with no hands.’

"Wow! So, for one bishop I was a liability but for the other I was an asset. The first bishop wasn’t a bad person, but his vision was narrow. Archbishop Tutu, on the other hand, had a different pair of spectacles and he was able to see that my woundedness could help others to heal. So it is fitting that Archbishop Tutu has written the foreword for my recent memoir Redeeming the Past, for he saw immediately that what happened to me was also an opportunity.

"Of course, none of that means that what happened to me was right. Sometimes people say, ‘It was God’s will that you were bombed.’ Now what kind of nonsense is that? Does that mean that God makes letter bombs? I am not interested in that kind of God. Rather, I believe in a God that gives us the strength to bring good out of evil, so that I can sit here today and say that in the bombing I lost a lot and that I have gained a lot.

"I know that I’m a better human being because of the journey I have travelled. For me, God’s grace worked through the prayers and support of people around the globe who also saw the possibilities of healing and continued to believe that I had a life ahead of me. That didn’t happen solely by my own efforts but through the collective power of love."
—Rowan Williams and Michael Lapsley, "The Journey toward Forgiveness: A Dialogue," The Ecumenical Review 66, no. 2 (July 2014): 191–213.

Parish prayers for the same-sex marriage debate

Acknowledgement: Professor Peter Sherlock #postalsurveyprayers

Matthew 22.23–33.

Gracious Lord, we give thanks for marriage and the great blessing it is to so many. We thank you for faithful married couples who bless us so richly.

Gracious Lord, long ago, lawyers and teachers used a problem about marriage to try and trick Jesus. How familiar this seems to us, as people of faith stumble over a question of marriage in the crude form of a postal survey.

We pray that all Australians may be prepared for whatever happens about marriage in the next few months. May Christians reflect and act on the teaching and model of Jesus. Should any fear for freedom, we ask reassurance should there be nothing to fear, and courage if there is.

May what remains of the campaigning be honest and constructive. We ask for a civil society, that we may learn to disagree passionately without violence or intimidation. May religious leaders inspire faith, hope, and love in a weary and angry nation. May both the opponents and the supporters of marriage equality be gracious and generous, as together we find good news to share in your love. Cause those who argue for argument’s sake to be silent, to listen and to learn.

May people feeling alone, unnoticed or unloved—especially young people—know that your love encompasses and holds them. May those who find only condemnation in the Bible come to know the gospel of grace. Uphold mental health staff and service providers that they have resources to help all in need.

Help our leaders to be prepared when the result is announced, that our democracy may be strengthened, not harmed. Help public servants who draft legislation to be patient and thorough. Guide religious and civil marriage celebrants to respond well to change and marriage counsellors that they may help people live fruitfully.

We ask courage for same-sex couples as the nation sits in judgment, and for couples whose legitimate marriages are not recognised in Australia, that their commitment may be respected. Watch over children of same-sex couples, that they may be cherished and kept free from fear or harm.

May gay and lesbian refugees in find their trust in Australia as a place of safety not to be misplaced.

We pray for celibate Australians, that their joy and fruitfulness will be recognised and nurtured.

We pray for those who for whom thoughts of marriage bring sadness and fear:
— people trapped in abusive relationships;
— those for marriage is a distant dream as the struggle to find the simple necessities of food, clothing and shelter;
— those forced or compelled to marry: may they find freedom.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of a partner and for those who mourn for what might have been—and for those whose partners have never been acknowledged, even in death, because of fear, prejudice and ignorance.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Parish Prayers as Jesus meets the woman at the well (John 4.5-42)

God of all peoples,
just as Jesus and his disciples journeyed through Samaria to reach their appointed destination;
teach us to how to walk through strange, foreign places,
how to meet people different from ourselves—
that they we might say to them "come and see".
You bypass no one; in this may we follow you.

May we also be like the Samaritan woman: willing to examine our lives in Jesus’ presence
that we may continue to true worshipers of the Father in spirit and in truth,
that we may share with those we know what it is like to meet with Jesus.
The truth revealed her faults, yet liberated the unnamed woman.
This Lent, may your truth reveal us to ourselves and set us free in you.

God of the nations, lead and direct so that truth and truthfulness may direct our leaders, inform our nation, govern our business and our everyday lives, that we may live in justice and peace together.

Give us and all who thirst for you that living water of your Spirit:
water of refreshment,
water of healing,
water of cleansing,
water of life.

What would you get rid of for Christmas?

A friend of mine one taught me that rather than “giving up” things for Lent, it is better to add something—more quiet time, more prayer. Similarly, I suggest that Christmas be a time not for getting more and doing more, but a time to get rid of some unwanted stuff. For instance …

In 2009, in its series The Question The Guardian asked “What would you get rid of for Christmas?” Anglican clergyman Peter Bolton responded that he would get rid of churchmen who denounce sexual sins with a fervour they never apply to any other sin.

This is like writing a letter to Santa! Resisting with all my might the temptation to ask for the extermination of certain people who get on my nerves my mind wonders around to the big and worthy issues. Should I ask for the end of war or global warming or poverty or homelessness or child abuse? Well, yes, I should […]

I can just about understand that Christians might regard homosexual acts as sinful but what I completely fail to understand is why they get so worked up about it. I just wish that churchmen (yes, I do mean that) who get so upset about what they regard as sexual sins would get just as worked up about illegal wars, the greed that leads to global warming, or the violence done to women in the name of Christian marriage. I wish were as vociferous in their campaigning against world poverty, against nuclear weapons or the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Why do they seem to get more upset about people trying to love than they do about poverty, the penal system, or the exploitation of women?

So, dear Santa, please get rid of all talk from churchmen about sex unless it is a celebration of God’s wonderful gift. […] Come to think about it, though, it might be more realistic to hope for the end of poverty.

I too would get rid of Santa. If we must have a feast of gift-giving, then St Nicholas is the real deal (and in Advent, not on Christmas Day).

nicholasThe Roman Catholic Church demoted Nicholas in 1969, by making observance of his feast day optional (December 6th in the Gregorian calendar) but he is much venerated in the Orthodox tradition and held by some to be patron saint of children, thieves, bankers, prisoners, sailors, unmarried girls and pawnbrokers—as well as the nations of Greece and Russia.

In 1892, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia travelled to Bari, in south-eastern Italy, to visit the basement of a medieval basilica, to pray where the remains of his namesake, brought to Italy in 1087, are kept. A year earlier, Nicholas had blessed the building of the trans-Siberian railway by installing an image of St Nicholas at its Pacific extreme in Vladivostok. The Bari basilica still receives many Russian pilgrims every year on St. Nicholas’ feats day by the orthodox calendar), drawn to honour the man whom Russians call Nikolai Ugodnik, Nicholas the Helper.

Bethlehem Christians claim Nicholas as their own because of a cave where the young Nicholas is said to have rested during his own pilgrimage to Bethlehem. There is a church built over the cave, scarred by fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli army. It was in Bethlehem that Nicholas heard the call to be a bishop in his native Asia Minor.

Nicholas is but a human story. Yet, if he were honoured instead of Santa, there would be still greater respect at Christmas for the Greatest Gift, Jesus the Christ.

Immaculate misconceptions

For Roman Catholics, 8th December is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Anglicans do not need this event to have been "immaculate", but in a minor festival today, do note that it happened.

In The Bite in the Apple on 3 December 2015, Nancy Rockwell wrote on "No More Lying About Mary."

It’s Advent, and the same old lies about Mary are slipping over pulpits and out of parish letters, Christmas cards, public prayers, TV holiday movies, and late night comics’ jokes.

The subjugation of Mary, the maligning of her as meek, mild, and mindless, has been harmful to millions.

Hiding within the wonder of Christmas are a thousand years of doctrinal female subjugation, doctrines that, like tinsel, are dripped all over the season of Christmas. In the midst of the celebration of Wonderful Life, these malicious ideas keep women from feeling empowered, invited to be strong, and urged by God to imagine new ways to live, as Mary of Nazareth did, who mothered God’s redemption of the human world. [&hellip]

Mary, wanted by God, according to the angel, for her bold, independent, adventuresome spirit, decides to bear a holy child—for a bold agenda: to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. This is Mary: well-spoken, wise, gritty. […] She is determined, not domestic; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world.

Indeed so.

Why, then. I wonder, is so much other silliness, heresy, delusion, tackiness and downright untruth about Mary? The “Immaculate Conception” and the “Assumption” are at the peak of this card-castle of foolishness. A 2005 joint statement by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, helpfully shows that the two communions have much in common in their appreciation of this remarkable woman.

"Roman Catholics, however, are required to believe the teaching defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950: ‘that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.’ [para. 58] and that, as determined in 1854, "the most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin."[para 59]. "The particular circumstances and precise formulations of the 1854 and 1950 definitions have created problems not only for Anglicans but also for other Christians." [para 61] — an understatement indeed.

Massive and glorious cathedrals are devoted to these heresies: The glorious Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres is an eminent example. Travelling through much of Europe, one finds places littered with depictions of Mary: much more so than of Jesus himself. People flock to shrines where she is supposed to have appeared, such as the National Catholic Shrine of The Basilica of our Lady of Walsingham in England, and the nearby Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham — which has connections even in Australia.

The Shrine is where in the year 1061, a Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches is reputed to have had vision in which was taken by Mary to be shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus and to have been asked by Mary to build replica of that house in Walsingham.

Sigh.

A void at the heart of soulless technocracy

In an editorial on 4 December 2016, The Guardian view on Christianity in Britain: neither here nor there, the paper finds there to be "something very strange" going on. "The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission feels he must tell employers it is OK to celebrate Christmas, and that this will not offend unbelievers. The prime minister announces in parliament that of course people should be able to speak freely about their religious convictions. A thinktank argues that there should be a duty of "reasonable accommodation" to religious belief. All these, the paper says, are symptoms of "a deep unease and confusion about the role of Christianity in British life."

The Guardian observes that Britain is largely secular and its population "largely indifferent to distinctively Christian beliefs, with "a growing hostility to the notion of ‘religion’ at all." On the other hand, to claim that Christians who are prevented from discriminating against gay people, for example, are thereby themselves discriminated against, "is hardly convincing."

All that said, "A compassionate society is one that treats its members compassionately. […] More subtly, the values of a society are developed and maintained by its institutions [of which] many will always be religious. It would be stupid and self-destructive to make such groups feel useless and unwanted. The nervousness over Christmas, or even over expressing religious belief, is an absurd expression of a real void at the heart of soulless technocracy.

Just so — in Australia as much as in the United Kingdom.

Come sweeping through us

Thursday, 6th December 2016, will be an important day for our local parish, as we welcome our new minister, the Revd Martin Johnson. The music will include this hymn, which is very much my prayer:

O breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O breath of life, come cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.

O wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore: for this we plead.

O breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in every part.

Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating
while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting
equip your church to spread the light.
—Elizabeth A. P. Head, (1850-1936)

Williams thinking royally

I am studying Rowan Williams. Recently I came across these short talks on two royal occasions. To me they are the epitome of gentle statement of thought-through understanding.

On the wedding of Prince William and Catherine.

On the diamond jubilee of HM The Queen