Monday, July 28, 2008

Instrument of Thy Peace

Kansas Bob this morning has reminded me of the prayer attributed to St Francis (I read recently that it wasn’t, in fact from him, but much more modern) which I have always loved, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace ..” When I was a uni student (long ago, in another century) the last section of that prayer was one of the things stuck on the inside of my folder:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

I don’t pretend to have lived up to it, but, despite the criticism I have heard of it in some quarters, it is still my goal. To me it is Jesus’ words “take up your cross and follow me” made personal to my situation. “Bearing your cross” has been a horribly misused phrase among Christians, used to apply to everything that causes pain and discomfort in life, as if pain and discomfort weren’t everybody’s experience in this fallen world. Pain in itself doesn’t make anyone holy, there are plenty of people who use their pain to justify every kind of self-centredness. For instance, most abusive parents are mistreating their children because they aren’t coping with their own pain and take it out on someone smaller and weaker. But pain, of course, can be the plough, that tears up the soil for the fruit of the Spirit to grow.

Much more relevant is the calling to die to self-centredness. Here my own pain becomes, not a demand for your pity, but a doorway to understanding your pain so that I can offer you my pity. It does not diminish my need to be loved (if only ….) but it actually becomes a faith act to entrust my neediness to God while I comfort your neediness. Of course, to broken human beings that can easily turn into a twisted demandingness: now that I have ministered to your need, you are obligated to minister to mine. That, too, is the failure of love. I don’t pretend to have worked out the balance of how our own essential needs are met while we learn to give ourselves away. If all our core relationships are healthy it’s not much of an issue, because people will meet love with love, generosity with generosity. And if the core people in our lives are doing that, it is easier to give ourselves away in free kindness to the rest of the world. Where core relationships are unbalanced, it is a much harder road. But I still believe it is Jesus’ road: not to be a self-righteous martyr in an unjust relationship, but to find a way through to God, from where you can both protect yourself as appropriate and yet give with no thought of return.

We can only become the instruments of His peace, the agents of His kingdom, when we have laid aside the expectation of building a kingdom of our own. We cannot do it ourselves, trite moralism achieves nothing that builds love or hope into people’s lives; it must be a burial of the self into Christ, allowing Him to love through us. Sometimes, in difficult situations, when I have long since run out of any love of my own, I try to see myself as a pipeline through which Jesus’ love can reach that person. Please don’t misunderstand, I am nowhere near success with all of this, I only know what goal I aspire to.
So what does this look like in daily life? On one pragmatic level it can be like the other verse I used to carry inside my uni folder;

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who are;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all—the foe—the friendless;
I would be giving and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up and laugh—and love—and lift.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Miracles for Sale!

Now, it happens that I do believe in the continuation of the miraculous gifts, but I don ot believe that everything that claims to be revival and miracle working is anything of the sort. Simon magus thought he could buy the gifts of the Spirit for coin; his spiritual descendants want to use the power of God (or the appearance of it)to make money. There are so many directions from which wolves seek to prey upon the flock ..

The huckster’s voices clamour loud
Sales’ pitches batter at your mind
“Step up! Step up!” they urge the crowd,
“This sweet prosperity to find!”

The crowds toil by with laden hearts,
Fragmented dreams, defeated eyes;
Their longings have so many parts
And every day their courage dies.

“Step up! Step up! Take hold! Take hold!”
The barkers with their megaphones
Offer the gift that can’t be sold
Proffer the power no one owns.

“See here, I have it – the one thing
Needful!” Raw power tints the air.
The hype, the money, everything:
For healing’s now a fairground ware.

We need some tinny organ tone
While the slick talker works the crowd
And dollars flash and angels groan
And prophet’s profits laugh aloud.

The weak, the poor the lame the sick:
Christ Jesus gave them all His heart
But now, for well-hooked promise slick,
The needy from their coin must part.

And faith joins hands with fantasy –
A mind game and a great pretence,
The hypnotist’s false ecstasy,
The disappointment too intense.

They travel over land and sea
To make one “convert” twice as bad.
Whilst those of anxious piety
Can scarce acknowledge they’ve been had

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Fairytale ..

Just a bit of doggerel..
We know that in all good stories (the sort we learned in childhood) the heroes and heroines pass through pain on their way to glory and happy-ever-after. And their endurance proves their authenticity ..

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

In fairytale, the ones of royal birth
Suffer ignominy to prove their worth.
Courage is needed, peril is abroad,
Wise is the prince who knows to use his sword.
Wise is the princess, in the midst of pain,
Who wears fidelity without a stain.
Rags they may wear, by jeering foes beset,
But we still know they’ll have their kingdom yet.

Likewise, stand firm, beloved of the king,
Midst every heartache life’s long loss may bring.
Walk in His light, whatever dark befall
Until the day when He shall conquer all.
Only believe His promise shall prove true
Then joy to walk the kingdom won for you.

World Youth Day!

This week is World Youth Day in Sydney, with Catholic pilgrims from all over the world pouring into Sydney for special events with the pope. It’s all a bit bemusing for the non-Catholic rest of us and, to be honest, I haven’t tried to keep up with it. Since it’s all being held in the inner city, and I rarely go near the city in business hours (going to the theatre, galleries, museums etc at other times is something I’m always keen to do), and my husband’s practice is in the leafy streets of outer suburbia, it hasn’t really touched us at all. But it does put Catholicism on the front page.

Now I don’t want to get into all the old arguments about Catholic/Protestant doctrinal differences. I grew up with that. My grandmother, an ardently low church Anglican, made me promise when I was a little girl (about 7 or 8) that I would never marry a catholic. Well, I married a Presbyterian, so I guess that was ok. And credit where credit is due: I think the Catholics beat us hands down when it comes to pastoral theology, and reverence and such. But I still think most of those Catholic distinctives are wrong: praying to saints, the cult of virginity, Mary as co-redemptrix, purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, And I’ve read the Council of Trent documents on justification, in fact did my major tut paper on them, and felt the doctrine was very muddled, and based on premises that are simply not biblical. But there’s a couple of other aspects of Catholicism I would like to address.

One of the things that strikes me about the whole culture of Catholicism is how very paternalistic it is. Now some people may like that, I’ve lived long enough to know that some people thrive under authoritarian systems and find their security there. I guess I haven’t lived long enough to understand those feelings. I don’t want to spend my life sitting back in blissful ignorance while someone else does the thinking for me; I’m a questioner by nature (though I do try hard not rock other people’s boats with my wonderings) and I’m never happy about something till I’ve figured it out for myself. And the thought of calling my minister “Father” (which Jesus expressly said we were not to do) really troubles me, let alone thinking of the pope as Il Papa. God is my father, the imagery of the church should be feminine, and I’m uncomfortable with the implied patriarchy of the Catholic usage.

Which leads straight to my second point, which is my bottom line for “why I could never be a Catholic” It’s the issue of authority. I simply cannot conceive just taking church tradition (or recent rulings, e.g. contraception) on board without deciding for myself what I thought. No man, whatever line of apostolic succession lies behind him, has that sort of claim on my conscience. The Word of God (because He authoritatively speaks through it) has that sort of claim on my life, the Holy Spirit is promised to me to guide me into all truth. I am not discarding tradition willy-nilly, anyone who thinks they have invented all the truth for themselves is just being silly and presumptuous, but while we listen to and weigh the words of those who are our elders in the faith, we very soon discover that there is much on which they do not speak in unison. We ponder their wisdom, we prayerfully consider the scriptures, and then we decide for ourselves. And along the way we may well change our minds about some things – certainly I don’t believe exactly what I believed when I was 20. And some of the things I still have the same opinion about, I believe for different reasons. That’s ok. It’s called growth, and as long as it doesn’t involve discarding the heart of the gospel, it’s probably a good thing. But if I don’t always agree with myself  the chances of my agreeing with the magisterium are even slimmer!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

This made sense

Found on the blog of PTC Sydney(the Presbyterian college where I did my Hebrew)was this comment on the issue of the emergent church:

McKnight's take is that lots of the questions are post-fundamentalist. In Australia where fundamentalism has not been the same phenomenon the emerging issues are not the same.

This makes so much sense, and explains why a lot of the conversations on American theoblogs don't sound like they're happening on the same planet I'm on. It actually is the same planet, but a different continent!

Beware of the horse

I don't normally put news stories on my blog, but these coroner's statistics were so quirky I couldn't resist. Courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald:

AUSTRALIA'S deadliest animals do not lurk on the banks of muddy Northern Territory rivers or slither on hot rocks. Nor do they hunt in the shallows of the sea or crawl on eight legs.

Horses are the creatures most likely to cause a human death, statistics compiled by the National Coroners Information System show.

Cows are the next most dangerous, followed by dogs. Sharks are in fourth position, while crocodiles and spiders account for only slightly more deaths than emus, cats and fish.

Of 128 deaths linked to animals that were investigated by coroners between 2000 and 2006, 40 were caused by horses.

Most occurred when riders fell off, including one that resulted in a coroner recommending that helmets be encouraged for commercial horse riding and mandatory for tourism operations.

Cows and bulls were linked to 20 fatalities, usually after a car hit the animal or swerved to miss it.

Dog-related incidents left 12 people dead, including two from cars trying to avoid them, two from people falling over them and seven from being attacked by them.

Of the country's traditionally most feared creatures, sharks were responsible for 11 deaths, snakes eight, crocodiles four and spiders three.

Two people were killed when their cars struck emus, another person died after a vehicle struck a sheep, and an elderly person died after tripping over a pet cat.

Final figures:
Horse 40
cow 20
Dog 12
Shark 11
Snake 8
Bee 5
Crocodile 4
Spider 3
Emu 2
Tick 2
fish 2
Sheep 1
Jellyfish 1
Cat 1

It's the last category that's really got me fascinated -- elephant?? hippo???
And why are these 4 animals grouped together? Are they not sure which one did it?
Things to ponder when you're really, really bored ..

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Chasing song ..

.. by Andrew Peterson.
Isn't this the truth?

Communion meditation

Here the true centre, where the planets whirl
In true procession. Here love is made real
The Word made flesh speaks to eternity
And all creation comes at last to kneel.

Here is the song behind all poetry.
Here are the arms in absolute embrace,
Here brokenness is broken to bring life,
And, in this Work, the fountain of all grace.

Here, where our tears are shed and wiped away,
And the shed blood becomes the kingdom’s wine
Here all our cries to harmony resolve,
I my Beloved’s am, and He is mine.