Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Change

My satisfaction with Anglican churches has been correlated with their height. That is, the 'higher' the parish in its liturgical practice, the more satisfying I've found it, and include here my years as a part of Christ Church St Lawrence in Sydney (moving music, enveloping liturgy, and generous Christian love) but more on this another time. As a generalisation, the lower I've gone, the worse it has been. The exception was some wonderful experiences at St Alban's Lindfield care of the then rector and some warm and brotherly fellow parishioners.

This has extended to theology too. One would have thought that one who has spent time at Capenwray in Allan Catchpoole's time (and by the way, a man I admire immensely, and had met up with in Singapore when he was working there), that my Calvinism was assured. Not so.

I was saddened by the reaction of the Anglican circles I moved in to the work of N T Wright. It was a uniform rejection, and almost embarrassment: not to be discussed with 'lay' people. No, even worse, condescending disdain! It was as though those of use who were not of the priestly caste could not be trusted with his ideas. Happily his ideas are published in books; and, of course, I don't take him as a job lot. As always, a book is a tool for thinking, not a manifesto for following.

So, in a recent sermon (by a bloke from Baptist Aid, as it happens), Wright was mentioned in pleasant terms. I was pleased.

The zero-sum game

My first post was on aid and development. As I wrote in it, I heard a hint of the fallacious view that economics is a zero-sum game.

With that in mind, I thought this essay recently on Quadrant on line worth linking to. That is, if we really want to help people, or do we just want to indulge in 'feel-good-semi-socialism'.

Refugees

A while ago Thornleigh Baptist Church, if my memory serves me correctly, held a seminar on refugees. I almost went along, but didn't, both because there were two people on the panel who I'd known many decades ago, and while I would be unlikely to be remembered, didn't really want to re-spin those circles and because of the tension I set out below.

The topic itself was counter-interesting to me. That is, I'm not particularly interested in 'refugees', although I see the need to provide for them, and have responded when in contact with refugees personally, but, knowing some of those who would attend, I had the inkling that we would not only be discussing services and support to refugees, but it would extend to boosting for the opportunists who attempt to boat in to Australia from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other places. Different tale there.

The UNHCR tells us that there are about 50 million refugees and similar in the world today. We invite all those into Australia, and we no longer have an Australia. The role of government is not only to extend compassion to those in need, but to defend us so that we do not by virtue of our 'compassion' (which may be misplaced on occasion) turn into those marginalised, disadvantaged and in need by virtue of social changes thrust upon us by failed cultures becoming ascendent. Then, no longer able to help anyone, we would be undone.

I don't argue that the churches have a place in arguing for particular policies, although one would hope that the politics would be a little more considered than is often the case.

Governments on the other hand have to make tough decisions. Paul refers to that in Romans 13. The government is responsible to make decisions as a good government, it doesn't make decisions as though it were a private individual and is not called to make decisions that will destroy a country. That is not responsible.

So, In my work as a public official I make decisions that respond to need according to the dictates of the government, and not as a private individual. I have to, on behalf of the government, balance my decisions against the global responsibilities that government has for fair and equitable, not to say balanced and economically sustainable use of its funds for the benefit of, if not all, then as many as possible.

There are limits everywhere, and governments cannot accept all, particularly those who decide that their case for an economically better life is more important that the millions of others who are in refugee camps and face far more than economic problems, but problems that in some cases are produced by cultural settings that exacerbate rather than ameliorate those very problems.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Coverdale

In an earlier post I referred to Coverdale's translation of the Bible. The mention I made in that post was correct.

Images of the appropriate part of the text below, split across the two images, courtesy of Bibles Online and all the way from 1535!













Sunday, December 28, 2014

Courses for Christians

A few years ago I was involved with the Alpha course in my church. I think we must have run about three or four courses over a couple of years, with one 'course' continuing as a 'post-alpha' group. We met for another year or so, if my memory serves me correctly.

Last year in another church I participated in an alpha course, which went quite well, I think. At least most people turned up most evenings, which is always a good sign.

Alpha seemed to be a little narrow in its intention, so the ministry group thought to try Christianity Explained across a large number of small groups. The people in these groups tended to be long time church members, so a different group of participants from Alpha, and quite different atmosphere.

As part of this effort we had a 'day away', which we held at Epping Baptist Church. Alpha has a weekend away and while my experience of these has been good, they can be a little intense and pressured. A single day is much better I think.

The 'day away' was enjoyable with just enough intensity to give it thematic strength, but not so much as to be overwhelming. The opportunity to eat lunch together, chat and get to know each other a little more was a blessing. Or maybe its just me; I like a good conference!

I've suggested that we do similarly for the wider church community (and not just small group attendees) next year. Perhaps to explore particular relevant topics (I mean relevant theologically or ecclesiastically, not necessarily 'current affairs' because life is grander than its digestion by the media). Maybe we could go on an excursion to Epping again.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Congregation

Just a word about my label "congregation".

I have in mind an early translation of Matt 16:18. I think it may have been Coverdale's. Instead of 'church' he rendered the Greek as 'congregation'. I had thought that it was Wycliffe's, but not so, as you will see if you click the link.

It makes all the difference.

We bring our modern experience of 'church' as an organisation to the text, and so misread it, allowing the Roman misreading to have some air.

But just let Coverdale's translation (if that is the one I'm recalling) sink in:

You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my congregation.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Childhood Christmas

I grew up in a small hamlet that had been part of Sydney's settlement in the 1800s. It had a place in the development of farming and transport in the Sydney basin.

Our hamlet was satellite of a larger township where was the railway station, the main post office, and a small shopping centre. Until my later high school years there was even a cavernous 'produce store' full of sacks of grain for local farmers and graziers and the smell of rural life. My parents told me that there was still a hitching rail for horses outside the very old post office when they arrived there as my father embarked on property development in the area, in the mid 1950s.

That's the setting for our village church, a Presbyterian church that itself was a small satellite in the larger presbytery.

The same crowd, in my understanding of our social life, the main crowd, turned up at church and at school. I doubt that all where believers in a real way, but I'd think that most were 'agreeable' to Christian faith. Some of the church members were of original settler families; they were our 'aristocracy', in a gentle way.

Unfortunately all the artifacts of that history are gone now, swallowed up by the march of suburbia; I think only one or two of the old buildings remain; most having been demolished, including the old tin sided produce store. However, the cohesiveness and stability I knew as a child remains with me. Social life, church attendance, school, our sporting clubs and community groups all knitted together: the same identities popping up in each.

Just an aside: one very pleasant part of this was that the local butcher, who owned one of the largest and oldest homes in the hamlet, each year hosted a Christmas party for we children of the neighbourhood. It was a great get together and about 20 or so of us turned up, with our mothers, each bringing a gift for one other child. Halcyon days!

Musing on this experience with my reading of Tudor history, and the convulsions that England went through as the dynamics of church and state adjusted, I can see why a unified church in the land under the Crown was so important. It was regarded as essential to the cohesiveness of society without which, I'm sure the monarch considered, the kingdom would be in danger of fragmenting. In those days of sluggish communications, limited education and few opportunities for most nothing else was regarded as able to do the work of religion in forming a cohesive nation.

Such things, and indeed 'religion' itself are not so important today for the community as a whole, so we look back to some of the horrors of that era and wonder. What we miss, is that they...the authorities...saw that they were fighting for their life, the life of their country. What happens remains grievous, of course, but it was not arbitrary or an eddy off the mainstream of society. It was at the heart of the societies' self-understanding.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Titles

Over the past couple of weeks I've been visiting friends and relatives in Mater Hospital. Reading the story of the naming of one of the wards, I was pleased by the statement that the particular person after whom the ward had been named had been the administrator of the hospital in decades past.

'Administrator'! A far better description of the role and its activity than the grand names that people in Christian organisations like to use these days. It reeks of worldly apeing when someone who is but an administrator, organiser, representative, etc, is titled 'Chief Executive Officer' and similar proud terms.

Bearing in mind Luke 22:24-27, I even dislike the term 'reverend' for the paid ministers in most churches. After all, only God is to be revered!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Stage shock!

Yesterday at the special Sunday School event for Christmas, a major success: a quirky music drama put on by our muti-talented youth pastor, set in heaven during the lead up to the nativity: angels being organised for announcements, etc.; and a minor wobble.

One of the music items was a group of 7 year olds singing a carol, taking it in turns to solo the verses. They moved around a triangle formation as they took the solo which was very cute; then one of them forgot his lines part way into it. We all felt for him, so the congregation took up the singing; but he was very upset.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but as I was watching him forget, then he realise that he had forgotten, I was waiting for someone to prompt him. I've seen it at school plays where there is a prompter going along with the script...or we could have used one of the video fold back screens to carry the words (a kind of teleprompt). Not only for the child's sake, but to help us all have a memorable morning.

I don't want to be unkind, but I was reminded of an observation I made as a teenager at the outer-suburban church I attended in the 70s: it was only at church that one was reliably embarrassed. However, then that church was run by a crowd of untrained and largely self-appointed (albeit elected) ministers. Still, I wonder if ministers' training covers the practicalities of staging children's' events.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday School 1

I'll probably post a pile on Sunday School, so I might make it a label as well as number this one.

Below is an image from a hand out given at church today, from no. 266 of Glimpses of Christian History, on Henrietta Mears. Below her '10  Commandments of Teaching (not a good start that she wants to bring the 10Cs, even by reference, into the Christian era).

Nonetheless lots of nice objectives and motivations here.

As I reflected on Sunday School, I recalled a friend of many decades ago (friend who went on to mission service in south Asia, full time local ministry and administration in Christian organisations) who impressed me when she mentioned that she'd taken her Sunday School class of young girls for a picnic to the park near her home. I'd not before come across a Sunday School teacher who shared their time with their class outside the class time thought it such a lovingly humble thing to do. I hope that kindness stayed in the girl's minds.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kids

I'm preparing my children for Christmas activities at church on Sunday (tomorrow). They'll be dressed as angels (you know, immensely powerful spiritual beings who go in ones and twos, or groups of 10 million) to perform Born is the King. It is a bit tricky, with some understandable reluctance with some chln to be in the public eye; but I think its good to get familiar with the stage.

One of the benefits I've found in church life has been the encouragement from my early adolescence onwards to participate as an adult in the adult world: in church 'services', on committees, and in various ministries, with guidance and mentoring from others (before we made a song and dance about 'mentoring' as though it were just invented by American management consultants).

I'm pleased that at our church we are starting to involve children in our regular services: praying, reading the Bible, contributing to music. It can be nerve-wracking for younger ones, but I hope they grow with the experience.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to talk

Recently one of our teachers gave a talk (sermon) on evangelism, and asked for people from the congregation to suggest why people might have difficulty talking to others about the gospel.

There was quite a range of suggestions, none surprising, I thought, but few touched what I had found as a younger person when I made many clumsy attempts to 'do my duty' which ended up to be such bad experiences for all involved, that I started to avoid people so I'd not have to experience such exchanges again.

However, I didn't mention that, but instead thought about it.

I later sent this to the teacher (pastor) by e-mail.

One reason not mentioned was that we are not equipped with the language to help others who have at least an implicit or unconscious materialist-evolutionary ontology, if not an articulated one, to understand the gospel. We speak from a stance of a world that is foundationally personal, and that personal conditioned by love, to a world where the personal is derived from the material through accidents of evolution.

In most cases we miss...and we cannot communicate with each other...because we only know 'church language' to communicate the gospel, not a language that actually communicates outside our group.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas 2014

The Christmas services at St James, Sydney are always special. I've enjoyed many midnight eucharists there on the 24th of December, and services of 9 lessons and carols.

It is the start of the services that I find particularly transporting. A solo treble singing "Once in Royal David's City", then joined by the choir as it processes up the nave to the choir stalls.

This year I won't be able to join these services, but I was happy to see a truncated version of lessons and carols yesterday (17 December).

The music was wonderful, but only because it was music about God with us: Immanuel, as he took on human form to bring us to eternal fellowship with him.

Bach's Wachet auf and Brahms' Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen were the prelude, then the processional hymn as above.

I enjoyed the pace and majesty of the service, its reminders of past joys at similar services and always, the celebration of Christ with us.

The penultimate paragraph from the Bidding prayer is memorable:

Finally, let us remember that whole multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in Jesus Christ, we are one in eternity.
We ended with the magnificent Hark the Herald Angels Sing with the order of service containing the wish for "a blessed Christmas".

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Aid and development

The topic at church this morning was aid and development: where the church both does charity and plays diplomacy, politics and development economist.

The man from Baptist World Aid, Cameron Eccleston, gave an expository sermon on 'justice' based on a passage in Romans during which he made the claim that our consumer culture (or may be just 'our wealth') keeps the poor poor. So we are the oppressors, as if economics is a zero sum game.

He espoused lots of tinkering and low grade assistance here and there, but the fundamental reason for poverty is a woven strand of low productivity, failed markets (so exploitation is rife), entrenched corruption (no 'rule of law', which took centuries to establish in western democracies), and religio-cultural factors. The 'failed culture' explanation.

Its fine, and indeed important for us to help those we know who are poor, but the long term 'help the man to fish' assistance is cultural, political, religious and economic: it's a long road, but the start is the start that Christians have always made: evangelism of the gospel that sets us free. Once that is embedded in people's psyche and a nation's culture, change would be unstoppable, albeit never easy.

Why?

Church and me:
  • a bit of theological meandering
  • some reflections on the deep past: tracing my own spiritual 'journey' (as the cool people like to say)
  • musings on what I see at church.
But! All about the local church/s that I have been involved with over the decades.
I'll try to be as particular as possible, but as annonymous as necessary to preserve the privacy and peace of mind of others; so, yes I expect some sharp rocks on the path.
Where public figures are relevant, I'll give them their identity; possibly.