Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I'm on holiday

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers.

I am on blogging holiday for a while - till mid-January-ish - unless the world blows up, which is slightly more likely since You Know Who (USA) and You Know Who (Russia) reignited the arms race.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

2017 will be a big year, in my view. Even bigger than 2016 has turned out to be!

My final wisdom for the year, especially pertinent on Christmas Day, courtesy of something my son Tweeted a while back:

Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in the fruit salad!

Boxing Day Postscript:

At the Midnight Service at St Barnabas Fendalton I preached a sermon more or less according to the following text. (My actual text had a few mores scribbled words than this version, but I have lost that!)

"Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
It is not a very happy Christmas this year.

This year we are acutely aware that people in places such as Aleppo are in an especially unhappy situation. But closer to home we also find people in difficult situations illustrated by long queues of people outside the Auckland City Mission.

Isaiah knew about the threat of evil and oppression which stalks humanity. We heard his description of the situation using words such as “yoke,” “bar”, “rod,” and “boots.”

This year we have felt the rod of oppression and the trampling boots of the oppressors across our world and we end the year feeling next year could be worse rather than better.

It is not a very happy Christmas this year.

Yet here we are singing about light and life, greeting one another with “Merry Christmas,” and hearing readings about glad tidings of joy for all.
What is up with that?

What did Isaiah see in the midst of his dark day? He foresaw a child being born, a child full of hope and promise, serving Israel with powerful love rather than the love of power.

At the time Isaiah almost certainly thought this foresight was about the next royal baby to be born.

But for centuries no royal baby born in Israel quite matched the job description of the Prince of Peace given in that passage.

Then, and we know the story well, a baby was born, with royal lineage, in a very obscure way, placed in a feeding trough with no spare room anywhere else in a Bethlehem hostel.

And as people got to know that baby, as the baby grew to be a man, what Isaiah saw was determined to have come to pass.

Jesus was the Wonderful Counsellor or, as Paul wrote to Titus, “our great God and Saviour.”

All that is good. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the manifestation of our great God.

But there is this tiny challenge. When Christmas is not a happy Christmas for many people, has the promise of Isaiah’s prophecy been fulfilled?

Isaiah did not only foresee the coming of the Christ child, he foresaw a better world, talking of “endless peace” and the establishment of a just kingdom.

I think this challenge has to be met. We crave integrity. We want promises to match reality. 

That is why Trump won and Britain is leaving the EU. Voters in those places are tired of reality not matching politicians’ promises.

The shepherds give us a clue as to why we do not yet see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled. When told that Jesus is good news for the world they go to him.

Ever since some people, like the shepherds, have followed Jesus. But many have ignored Jesus, some have shunned him, a few have even gone further and persecuted his followers.

Even our beloved Press today [24 December 2016] has an editorial relegating Jesus to the sidelines and giving thanks for Santa Claus!

Isaiah’s vision will be fulfilled when we run towards Jesus rather than away from him. When we pay him homage, like the shepherds, rather than toss him to one side.

It is not a very happy Christmas this year. That is a challenge. At the least it is a challenge that we might help people discover or rediscover Jesus, the only way to endless peace and a just world.

Will we find our way to Jesus, like the shepherds?"

Friday, December 23, 2016

And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

I promise you, that if you read this post on NZ productivity figures, you will get to Christmas, and the source of the lovely title to this post.

POSTSCRIPT: For something a little different, pointed and provocative about how we think about the spiritual dynamic of Christmas, read this post (H/T Josh Taylor, Spanky Moore)

POSTSCRIPT 2: Yes, terrorism is closer to home Down Under, once again, including a Melbourne church as a target.

Heading into 2017, this might help understand what will happen

The thing about 2016 and its tumults is they are of the kind which imply 2017 will be worse, not better. 2016 looks like it will be not an aberration but the deepening of a growing global crisis.

For which crisis we might have a better understanding if we read this.

It might be worth remembering that Jesus was born into the world not to found a civilisation to be later defended from the encroachment of other civilisations but to save the world, everyone in it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The very latest cathedral news

Stuff has this report up about no announcement before Christmas about the future of the Christchurch Cathedral.

Shortly I hope to be able to append here the official media statement on the matter by +Victoria (which staff were informed about a few minutes ago, as I write).


Bishop Victoria's letter to the Diocese about the non-announcement today is here.

The accompanying press release is here.

Love reaches out to all, including ...

It has been extremely refreshing in recent weeks on this blog to find that there is a topic or two other than You Know What which generates long strings of comments, to say nothing of strong arguments, robustly mounted against this blogwriter.

This "topic or two" is a bit of a mix of standing against Trumpism and standing for welcoming Muslim migration (with some obvious caveats).

Nothing I have read recently better captures the sense I have that a welcoming country like NZ should welcome Muslims along with other people groups than this Stuff article.

All people living in NZ at some point in a past of 1000-1200 years at the most have been or their forebears have been migrants moving from one land to another in search of a better life.

Long may it continue!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Full of Grace - The Sacred Truth about Christmas

As you are no doubt experiencing yourself, the path to a "happy" Christmas lies in securing the right presents for the right people in your life and that likely involves entering some shops which normally you would not enter.

Thus I found myself in a shop full of interest, theologically speaking, the other day. Full of interest because of the names given some products in that shop, as conveniently illustrated by these photos (Motto: Always carry your smartphone wherever you go):

So there it is folks, some 2000 years after the birth of Jesus Christ who came, according to John 1:17, "full of grace and truth," we have the faint residue of that revelation in a post-Christian consumerist society!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It is not a happy Christmas this year ...

There is too much to ponder that is terrifying, crazy or just generally alarming ... and as I write this the Russian Ambassador to Turkey has been assassinated ... didn't the trigger for the First World War involve something like that?

Read this (H/T Brian Kelly) to underline the challenges of finding genuine peace and harmony in a world beset by the divide between Islamic and Christian world views.

Of course, an unhappy Christmas this year does not mean it cannot be a joyful Christmas! But our joy this year is tempered more keenly than most years by the dark stain of strife and bitterness.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Simple rhymes

Last night I went to the Transitional Cathedral's Nine Lessons and Carols Service. Very good it was too.

One of the carols the choir sang is cited below. As they sang and I followed the words, I was struck by how simple the rhyming poetry was, yet profound the theology expressed in its simplicity.

What do you think?

The words ultimately are "traditional" but this version and its music were Arranged by George Whitehead (1848-1934).

Up Good Christian Folk

Ding dong, ding:
Up good Christian folk,
and listen how the merry church bells ring
and from steeple
bid good people
come adore the newborn King

Tell the story
how from glory
God came down at Christmastide.
Bringing gladness,
chasing sadness.
Show'ring blessings far and wide.

Born of mother,
blest o'er other,
Ex Maria Virgine.
In a stable
('tis no fable).
Christus natus hodie.

Postscript: with H/T to Brian Kelly, I send you to Ian Paul's fascinating sermon on (among other things) the "stable" is a fable (though see also my comment below).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trumpism, perfected child of Norman Vincent Pealeism

To be frank, the only thing I get about Christian support for Donald Trump is that it might turn out that some of his policies will be good for middle America. Otherwise I am at my wits end as to why Christians view Trump so favourably. (Yes, I know, some readers here are supportive and have explained their support. I remain a puzzled non-Trumper).

Anyhow, this article may be of interest to you, whether you love 'im or hate 'im or simply worry what he will do.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity (3)

A great virtue of being Anglican is our embrace of breadth, our ability to accommodate, well, a lot of variety.

Sometimes that has meant for us a kind of "anything goes" approach, whether any theology is fine, any liturgy (or non-liturgy) will do, and all diversity is blessed, especially because it is, er, diverse. We have only feared, in such moods, monochromaticity. 

Those "anything goes" days are over, however, in my view, if the Anglican church wishes to survive the tsunami of 21st century secularism, Islamism and now Trumpism bearing down on it.

The only consequence for avant-garde Anglican theologising since the Enlightenment I can see is decline in church attendance. By contrast, new possibilities for restoring old fractures in the global church present themselves, and if we take them up we will need to focus on how we move together in theological harmony - drawn together by the teaching of the apostles - rather than difference.

Thus an apostolic Anglican church, seeking again to win the world to Jesus Christ, needs to tighten up theologically. 

I suggest we need to be quite conservative theologically, constantly asking ourselves whether what we are thinking and teaching is consistent with the faith once given, as understood by the vast majority of Christians around the world today. That is a necessary condition of being an apostolic church. 

The sufficient condition of being an apostolic church is that we combine that "defensive" role of preserving our faith with the "offensive" role of proclaiming our faith. It is in this offensive, advancing movement of the church that Anglican breadth becomes a new and welcome virtue. The other day Liturgy published a striking and very popular post. One takeaway from that post is that we should be very careful to avoid throwing out anything valuable to us about the way we do or the way we are church.

Our world is pluriform. There is no one size (i.e. type of) church fits all. If the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ and the church is Christ's body in the world, then as the good news of Jesus Christ is embraced by different people at varying points of human need, then the body of that same Jesus Christ must be diverse: both to welcome a variety of people and to express the personalities of those same varied people. The Anglican church is well suited to this particular requirement of apostolicity in the 21st century.

We can do ritual. We can be charismatic. (Yes, to ward off a predictable comment: we can be both!) We can preach the gospel with words and in deeds. We can speak to the varied socio-economic classes of our society. We can connect with immigrants.

But sometimes we do these things better than other times and quite often we are patchy in our record of being a church suited to the pluriformity of life. To coin a phrase (!!), we can make the Anglican church great again ...

From an apostolic perspective we Anglicans need desperately to take a break from our sexuality wars. Here is one reason: we cannot be sure that the GAFCON approach to being Anglican is purely driven by theological issues in sexuality. If some or all the archbishops involved in GAFCON are "despotic", how does dancing to their tune serve the gospel of the Servant? There is another way: meeting of minds, continuing dialogue, mutuality in face to face conversations, well exemplified in this report.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Mashup

Yes, the third post on Anglican Apostolicity is coming ... meanwhile ...

Horrible news out of Cairo this morning about a bombing of a Coptic chapel complex. We must not diminish our political will and will to pray that Islamic (and all other forms of) terrorism would cease.

Bill English is all but signed in as our new Prime Minister. He is our first active Catholic Prime Minister since our last one, which actually means that between Jim Bolger (1990-99) and now we have had three Prime Ministers, two of whom were well known  for being at least agnostic if not atheistic, and the third, well, I cannot recall a strong declaration of active faith. BUT ...

... as Bill is being interviewed late this morning, we are learning that he was against but now is in favour of gay marriage, not least because he realises that it is not damaging to straight marriage. Also he is against voluntary euthanasia but for a conscience vote on it when and if it comes to parliament. I wonder what his bishop makes of these views coming as they now do from the highest profile Catholic layperson in the land!

I notice on Taonga today an item which closes and clarifies an awkward situation which arose in our church over the past year. (I mention this because not all is perfect in our church and from time to time I will notice that here. HOWEVER I will take no comments on this particular matter, and will not publish a comment on another matter which nevertheless mentions this one. You can always comment at Taonga if you choose).

Finally, an unashamed appeal for consideration of this fundraising venture by our darling daughter Leah as she seeks funding for two dance performances she and a small team are working on for 2017. This particular way of raising funds has just eleven days to go as they seek a further $4250 ... thanks for reading this paragraph!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Unlikely quarter?

My attention has been drawn to praise for the Pope's now controversial Amoris Laetitia document on marriage and the sacrament of the Mass. I imagine it is timely for Francis as he is under cardinal attack from four cardinals pressing him to clarify what he seemingly prefers not to clarify.

I am on the Pope's side, incidentally. Marriage and its many breakdowns, in my experience of meeting with many couples pastorally, are not neatly covered by "refusal of the sacrament" unless "annulment" has taken place. (Neither of which things, incidentally, are taught by Jesus as responses to divorce!) So a messy, lacking clarity document such as Amoria Laetitia is pleasingly adaptable to the vagaries of human circumstances, and fittingly coherent with the unceasing mercy of God.

So I am going to read with interest, and you may too, the following links to the Ecumenical Patriarch's remarks ...



The actual column the EP wrote is here, and, well, why not cite it in full ... (my bold)

"When speaking of God, the descriptive language that we adopt is love. And when speaking of love, the fundamental dimension that we attribute is divine. This is why the Apostle of Love defines God as love. (1 John 4.8) 
When our dear brother and Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Francis, issued his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia earlier this year, it was around the time that we jointly travelled to the island of Lesbos in Greece, in order to express our solidarity with persecuted refugees from the Middle East. Although the Papal Encyclical “on the joy of love” is concerned with issues pertaining to family life and love, we believe that it is not unrelated to that historical visit to the refugee camps. For what became immediately clear to both of us, as we gazed into the sorrowful faces of the wounded victims of war, was that all of these people were individual members of families -- of families broken and torn apart by hostility and violence. But, as our Lord explicitly told us about the relationship between power and service, it should not be so among us! (Matt. 20.26) Immigration is nothing but the other side of the same coin of integration, which is surely the responsibility of every sincere believer. 
Of course, Amoris Laetitia touches the very heart of love and family, just as it touches the heart of every living person born into this world. This is because the most sensitive issues of family life reflect the most vital questions of belonging and communion. Whether they concern the challenges of marriage and divorce, or even of sexuality and childrearing, they are all delicate and precious pieces of the sacred mystery that we call life. 
Over the last months, there have been many commentaries and evaluations on this significant document. People have wondered how specific doctrine has been developed or defended, whether pastoral questions have been reformed or resolved, and if particular rules have been either reinforced or mitigated. However, in light of the imminent feast of the Lord’s Incarnation -- a time when we commemorate and celebrate that the “divine word assumed human flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14) -- it is important to observe that Amoris Laetitia recalls first and foremost the mercy and compassion of God, rather than solely the moral rules and canonical regulations of men. 
What has undoubtedly smothered and hampered people in the past is the fear that a “heavenly father” somehow dictates human conduct and prescribes human custom. The truth is quite the opposite, and religious leaders are called themselves to remember and in turn to remind that God is life and love and light. Indeed, these are the terms repeatedly emphasized by Pope Francis in his encyclical, which discerns the experience and challenges of contemporary society in order to discern a spirituality of marriage and family for today’s world. 
The church fathers are not afraid to speak openly and honestly about the Christian life. Nonetheless, their starting point is always the loving and saving grace of God, which shines on all people without discrimination or disdain. The same fire of God, says Abba Isaac the Syrian in the seventh century, brings warmth and consolation to those who are accustomed to its energy, while searing and consuming those who have turned away from its fervor in their lives. The same light of God, says St. Symeon the New Theologian in the tenth century, serves as salvation for those who have desired it and enables them to see the divine glory, while bringing condemnation to those who have rejected it and preferred their own blindness. 
In the early months of this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it was most fitting that Pope Francis both encountered the families of the despondent refugees in Greece and embraced the families under his pastoral care throughout the world. In so doing, not only did he invoke the infinite charity and unconditional compassion of the living God upon the most vulnerable souls, but he also evoked a personal response from the recipients-readers of his words as well as all people of good will. For he invited people to assume personal responsibility for their salvation by searching for ways in which they can follow the divine commandments and mature in spiritual love. 
The culmination of the papal exhortation is, therefore, also our own conclusion and meditation: “What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.”by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why can't life be boring, predictable, steady and stable?

The title is the great existential question of 2016.

Leicester City, Brexit, Trump, Ireland beating the ABs, Trump bringing Taiwan back into the fellowship of nations, John Key resigning. There is too much "the unexpected is the norm" going on. Change and decay in all around I see, with emphasis on "change"!

But things are changing.

Here is a pretty thoughtful post on what we could call the big change in the "governing" worldview across many nations.

And here is a post on one tiny but hugely significant change in one Western country ... the kind of change in attitude which exemplifies our post-whatever-used-to-be-common-to-us and now-confusing world.

Meantime. Yes, yes, yes. Post number three on Anglican Apostolicity, featuring the All Blacks, is coming along.

If only Prime Ministers would stop resigning ...