Monday, July 31, 2023

Yes, go to the Barbie movie!

 I cannot even recall if I have given a movie recommendation in an ADU post before, but here is one:

Go to the Barbie movie!

I haven't been to the Oppenheimer movie so no recommendation for that, but perhaps one should, especially as the planet is now at - according to a UN leader - "boiling point."

Back to Barbie.

It is a profound movie. Of course it is difficult to say why in any kind of detail without giving away "spoilers", so my comments will be general.

If, by the way, you have seen the movie, a very good theological reflection has been posted by Amy Peeler here. This post does not seek to do the work of that post!

Why recommend this movie as a go to see movie?

1. It is a lot of fun!

2. It is for both men and women to see, since it speaks to the battles between gender in the politics of social power, so of relevance to all of us. 

(In the small Chch cinema I saw it in - Alice's, for locals - I think there were only two guys there among a sea of women; and I was there with wife and two daughters; but, really, it is for both sexes to see).

3. It challenges the gender-based power structures of society.

4. It is very funny!

5. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are superb actors. Will Ferrell is goofily great too!

6. There are lots of tributes to other movies (reason for movie buffs to go).

7. Big shout out for Margot Robbie, solely, of course, because she is from Down Under [Australia].

8. There is lots to think about because the movie explores profound themes concerning life and death, ideality and reality.

9. It is a visual riot of colour and costumes.

10. Re 8, see the link above re the theological reckonings of the movie, but a similar essay could be written by an atheist, just focusing on the various philosophers/philosophies the movie prompted me to think about: change/Heraclitus; the role of thought in human understanding/Descartes; real/ideal worlds/Plato et al, etc.

But, basically, go see it because it is both fun and profound, which is a great movie mix.

I get the impression Oppenheimer is profound and, unsurpisingly because of the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, - not fun.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Does it take a cataclysm to foster unity?

We are entering a dangerous phase for the world. It has been very hot in many places (not NZ). People are dying in extra-hot parts of the world. Average temperatures are shockingly high (here and here). Even our cold winter is not as cold as once was upon a time. One sign of global warming here is the state of the Franz Josef glacier. That’s the glacier at the left of centre in the photo below (snapped by me on my phone on a plane, returning from Oz, a few days ago). It looks like an extracted tooth!

The point is, the glacier once used to fill most of the valley as it snakes down the left hand corner of the photo. It is melting away as the world heats up. 

Sure there is a lot of snow in this photo, but these are our highest mountains (including Aoraki (Mt Cook) the highest peak in the upper right hand corner of the photo). Generally (until a storm this past weekend) our skifields have been unusually short of snow through June and early July.

Some reading on the plane as we crossed the Tasman alerted me to the scenario we Christians do not always want to contemplate, that unity may be forced on us (speaking of humanity generally) by calamity.

So far the world is not particularly united on anything, and definitely not on collective action to mitigate climate change. (Including, I acknowledge, as a recent flyer, action to stop air travel).

But, do recent heatwaves and high average temperatures mean we are closer than ever to climate change calamity and thus nearer to the possibility of humanity being pressed to unify on what we will do?

If the gospel is as Masure says (on my sidebar), that is, "Fundamentally the Gospel is obsessed with the idea of the unity of human society.", then Christians are always keen on unity - our common mindedness, our fellowship, our common life - and must reckon that a wake up call sounded by cataclysm does have at least one benefit, pressing humanity to set aside differences and work for the common good.

Speaking of such unity, I noticed a Tweet by Australian biblical scholar Michael Bird this week which fits the theme of this post:

"Just realized that Rom 15:5-6 is a perfect summary of Phil 2:1-11.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:5-6)."

Romans 15:5-6 comes at the end of Paul's great passage through Romans 14 on how his readers might unite despite strong differences over eating food offered to idols. That is, Paul is not setting out an ideal unity in Christ without reference to the reality of sharp division. 

Having engaged with the sharp division, offered a way forward out of it, he prays for the Roman Christians for that which he also seeks for the Christians in Philippi, a unity of attitude to one another and of shared Christ-mindedness among the body of Christ which draws on the example of Christ himself.

If the chief end of humankind is the glory of God, then the implication of the last part of 15:6 is that we may not have capacity to glorify God when we have not unity!

None of us wishes the world to reach cataclysm, yet that is where we are heading, ironically because we cannot and will not motivate ourselves to find common cause on a means of avoiding cataclysm.

Of course, implicit in Romans 15:5-6 and Philippians 2:1-11, is the sobering point that if the world is to be unified, the church is to be a signpost and a model of that unity.

I need say nothing further about whether the signpost points in the right direction or the model is functioning well.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Matariki musings

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are getting used to a new public holiday - Matariki - a Friday, varying a bit around the mid June to mid July period, offering opportunity to celebrate the (re)appearance of Matariki or, in other language contexts, Pleiades. This is just our second year of having this holiday.

For Maori, this represents the turn of the old year into the new year.

For Christians in our islands, I see a warm embrace of this new interest in an old custom, with opportunities (at least as I have experienced them) for reflecting on the God of creation, Christ the light of the world, and doing so out of respect for our Treaty of Waitangi partners.

Links which may be of interest and edification are here, here, and here. But not all are keen: here.

Matariki is referenced specifically three times in Scripture: Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38;31.

This year I also noticed a case advanced for considering the "seven stars" of Revelation (e.g. 1:12-20) as a reference to Pleiades/Matariki. (There is a bit of a challenge here since the count of brighter stars in this cluster often counts up to nine and not just to seven. See further, here.) 

The larger challenge here, noting, for example, the reasonably widespread endorsement of the spirituality of Matariki (e.g. on advertisements on TV), in a manner scarcely similarly endorsed at either Easter or Christmas, is how we as Christians respond to something new (or newly emphasised) in our culture.

Overall - my musing is thus - Christians are seeking to find in Matariki (the stars, the event of their appearance, the talk of their meaning) all that is consistent with the revelation of God the Creator in Jesus Christ the Light of the World.

A different musing this weekend. For service this morning in one of our parishes, where I knew a sermon-with-some-discussion would be appreciated, I responded to the readings, Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23, in the following way:

The assertion of the Christian gospel is that humanity can change, that we are able to receive a message from God – the gospel or good news, hear it, receive it, digest it, possibly reject it, or, hopefully work with it and for this message to work within us to change our minds, change our attitudes, change our behaviour and, bit by bit, change the world.

It is an extraordinary claim because it is a claim that something deep within us can be reached by God working within us in a way that cannot be reached by (say) education, or punishment according to a state judicial system.

This is not to say that education or appropriate punishment cannot have good effects – they do and we rightly pay taxes to ensure their benefits are widely shared in society.

But, and we see this being played out in our society today, highlighted by media headlines and spotlighted by politicians seeking election, we have some deep, seemingly intractable problems in society.

Something deeper by way of changing people and fixing social breakdown is needed. Something more powerful to transform us than what is currently on offer by any politician or media pundit.

Our passages today are chalk and cheese in many ways. The gospel reading is an earthy parable about the way crops are planted and successfully grown or otherwise. The epistle reading is very spiritual – literally so because there is a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit.

Yet both passages are about the assertion of the Christian gospel that humanity can change through the receiving into the depths of our being the good news message of God.

The seed in the earthy parable is a word of God which falls into people’s lives. Some are distracted, etc, the word does not take root. Some are not, the word brings good consequences, fruitful change in their lives.

Romans 8 is at the end of a sequence of arguments and proposals by Paul relating to the plight of humanity. Beset by sin, can humanity be made righteous – put into a right relationship with God? Yes, Paul says, because of what Christ has done for humanity, through his sacrificial death and his rising to new life. (Romans 1-4)

Humanity Rightly relating to God, nevertheless is beset by sin: can humanity – more precisely, you and me – overcome the tendency to wrong-doing rather than be overcome by it?

This is the subject of chapters 5-8.

Paul’s answer is guarded. Yes, we can be overcomers – God’s power is available to help us, through the Spirit of God working within us, we can change – but we need to work with God on this, consistently saying Yes to the prompts of the Spirit to live godly lives, and consistently saying No to the prompts of our sin-tending natures.

Chalk and cheese, two very different passages, both seeking to persuade readers/hearers that God’s powerful love seeks to empower us to change for good.


What is our response to be?

A fascinating discussion followed this reflection and concluding question!

Please note that due to travel this week I may not be able to respond to comments, including posting them, with my usual speed.

Monday, July 10, 2023

It is complex, isn't it? [updated]

I have been following the establishment of the Diocese of the Southern Cross (an entity established in Australia as a "company", with an overseer, Archbishop Glenn Davies, for Anglicans, and others, unhappy with the direction of the Anglican Church of Australia, or, respectively, their denomination such as the Uniting Church). 

My interest is slightly greater than it might otherwise be, because the second clergyman to join was the Reverend Peter Judge-Mears, a former colleague in the Diocese of Nelson, who was our youth worker and then, after ordination, curate in the Parish of Blenheim South, when I was Vicar there.

At The Other Cheek, John Sandeman has published a talk Peter recently gave, titled, "Why I left the Brisbane Anglicans to join the Diocese of the Southern Cross."

I appreciate this account because it sets out a much wider theological context for Peter's decision to leave (along with about half his former congregation who have left with him) than what it initially seemed when the news first broke. News more along the lines of, "it's about same sex stuff."

On the one hand, I want to write carefully here because the Brisbane leadership (both diocesan and ministry training) doesn't get their side of things presented, so a rush to judge them is to be avoided.

On the other hand, Peter spent thirteen years in the Diocese of Southern Queensland, so it is quite reasonable that his case for leaving represents an accumulation of evidence, some of which is cited in his talk, and not a sudden decision based on one disagreement. His departure is a departure over difference, and, on the face of it, the differences are striking.

An argument that ethical commands of Scripture are not prescriptive, for example, raises many questions in my mind, as well as Peter's!

At one level, when Peter writes descriptively, he could be describing any Western Anglican context from the 1960s onwards!:

"Both in radio interviews and in print publications, calling for discarding the creeds and rejecting the 39 Articles. 

One friend of mine was told in front of the class that if she upheld the 39 Articles, then her God was a different God from the lecturer’s God, and her God was a monster. This is in an Anglican theological college."

At another level, it is one thing to doubt or even deny the validity and relevance of the 39A and another thing to ascribe to a holder of the 39A that the God of the holder is "a monster." Quite a few questions raised, if not alarm bells sounded!

Now there are two things I am not attempting to discuss here: 

1. whether all this is reasonable grounds for leaving a diocese; 

2. what the overall state of the Diocese of Southern Queensland is. 

UPDATE: A veiw from one of the Southern Queensland bishops, Jeremy Greaves, can be found in another post by John Sandeman, here - a post which is itself interesting for its exploration of Anglican "comprehension."

On 1, I can only respect Peter's decision and observe that, presumably, there are others of a similar theological outlook to him who have not come to the same decision (including the half of his congregation that remained). 

On 2, I have no idea. 

What is worth discussing is a general-Anglican question arising from an intriguing observation at the foot of the talk:

"The rejection of the scriptures: well, we’ve heard about that in terms of the quote from the archbishop, the rejection of the virgin birth, the rejection of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. All of this stuff was acceptable in our diocese. In the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland, those were acceptable deviations. That is an astounding thing when we have a constitution that says they’re not [acceptable deviations]. "

The question that the observation raises, in my mind, is the question of coherency in Anglican contexts - parishes, dioceses, provinces, the Communion or Gafcon.

A diocese in which everyone says the Nicene Creed and means it, has a coherency to it. A diocese in which no one says the Nicene Creed because priests and people no longer believe its statements also has coherency to it. Ditto, parish, province etc.

Of course, most parishes and dioceses and provinces around the Communion have a degree of difference and diversity in beliefs. 

The question then can be whether such difference means a high degree of tension between members, e.g. because there is a 50:50 division of views, or because adherents of one set of views are somewhat strident and loud in their support. 

Or, whether such difference is manageable, e.g. because a strong majority do agree together, the smaller minority quietly accept the status quo, and the majority do not seek to eject the minority. In the former case, the situation is experienced as incoherent; in the latter case, the situation is experienced as "somewhat" coherent.

Of course, Anglican life is complex. I might live in the Diocese of X where most people say all of the Nicene Creed happily but a few refuse to say the filoque clause and keep bringing motions to synod urging the dropping of the filioques clause [somewhat coherent], however there are other differences which manifest themselves from time to time: recently X's synod could not agree on a motion condemning civic legilsation permitting euthanasia [incoherent] but did agree with great enthusiasm to a motion requiring all churches with pitched rooves to install solar panels [coherent].

At what point in a "mixed ecology" do I find myself unable to continue with a mix of incoherency, coherency, and somewhat coherency?

This might be a sharp question for some CofE members following the conclusion of the very recent session of their General Synod where, as best I can tell from various reports, there is inocherency, coherency and somewhat coherency at play, and on some pretty significant issues (including where parishes fit into the "mixed ecology" approach to ways of doing and being church).

For myself, I cheerfully live as an Anglican in my diocese, ACANZP and the Communion because I am reasonably comfortable with the range of incoherencies and coherencies currently being experienced!

Monday, July 3, 2023

Conferencing can be invigorating!

 Last week, as I mentioned at the foot of the previous post, we held our annual Clergy Conference, Monday evening to Wednesday evening.

"Clergy" Conference is a slight misnomer because lay staff on our Diocesan Ministry Team, a lay school chaplain and one or two lay ministers in parish leadership (and about to be ordained) have been included in the invite list.

We met at College House, an amazing complex of buildings, mostly for the purpose of providing accommodation for university students at the University of Canterbury, which has been built on "Oxbridge" lines, with buildings, including a chapel, surrounding a grassy quadrangle.

But a lovely secondary purpose is that there are facilities for conferences available when the university is on vacation. For our purposes it was especially beneficial to have a chapel for worship services, and, for all of Tuesday, for our retreat talks.

This chapel is not well known in NZ but architectural experts know it is one of our finest buildings, and arguably the masterpiece of one of our leading architects in the 20th and 21st centuries, the late Sir Miles Warren. The Chapel of the Upper Room - it is entered by ascending stairs - was opened in the 1960s, put out of action by the 2011 earthquakes and re-opened last year by me after considerable fundraising to secure the several million dollars needed to strengthen and repair the chapel.

If the chapel is a reinvigorated building, our conference gave us opportunities for personal and corporate invigoration.

One day was spent on retreat - opportunity for personal invigoration.

One day was spent on upskilling/development - opportunity for corporate invigoration.

A specific piece of invigoration on the second day was a challenging address on "Millennials."

I understand millennials to be those born between 1982 and 2004.

The gist of the address (from a vicar with many millennials in the congregation) is that millennials have expectations about church which differ from the "business as usual" approach of many Anglicans, otherwise doing things as they have been done through the second half of the twentieth century.

Those expectations relate to everything from seating, songs/hymns, liturgical matters, use of microphone by preacher [comedian mic better than Madonna mic] to how children are cared for in church. Etc.

Wow. There was good discomfort in that address, but it was discomfort.

In short, as I must bring this post to a close, because of time, the challenges the Anglican church faces in the Blessed Isles are not all about theologically diverse/divisive matters.

Arguably the greater challenge is whether we can connect with the next generations simply through "how" we do church, let alone "what" we might be saying in our sermons.