Monday, May 27, 2024

How was that then?

The Tikanga Pakeha Conference and the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui which followed it are done and dusted. It was lovely meeting in Havelock North and Hastings respectively for these hui.

Taonga has reports on various proceedings of note here, here, here, here and here.

I am especially pleased that at our third attempt, Tikanga Pakeha, via our Conference meeting, has agreed to a nomination for our new Senior Bishop and Archbishop for our whole church, ++Justin Duckworth (Bishop of Wellington), and that Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pasefika confirmed that nomination during our meeting in Hastings.

The life of the church presses on - the real work of the church not being synodality but is our day to day witnessing to Jesus Christ as the hope of the world and the bread of life, On that score, one of the high points of our proceedings was a session with Fr Greg Boyle and Steve Avalos - their stories being testimonies to the life-changing power of the Gospel of Christ, with specific focus on transforming members of gangs in LA.

The film of their session - the session in which they appeared - can be seen here. Further reporting on the remarkable story of Fr Greg's life and ministry can be found here and here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

It's that time again!

Yes, General Snod/Te Hinota Whanui is meeting again - we began this afternoon - Sunday - as I write, with powhiri, hakari and eucharist at Omahu Marae (near Hastings). The Synod sessions are being held in Hastings.

Taonga can be kept in touch with through this week as it reports on the deliberations of the Synod.

A preliminary report and timetable of some key events is reported here.

Incidentally, while on the Taonga site, a report is here of the farewell for my colleague, Bishop Steven Benford from the Diocese of Dunedin.

I also see a link there to a story of Christians being killed in Gaza.

Back to the Synod: as usual we have had a meeting of the Tikanga Pakeha Conference beforehand - in lovely Havelock North. Always good to meet with old synodical friends and to make new ones.

Or, noting developments in the Roman world, should we talk about synodality friends?

Short post this week but there is a lot going on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

What to do about Gaza ... etc?

Angels should not rush in where fools do tread! Hopefully I am not a fool and I am sure I am not an angel. But, perhaps, it is time to put some thoughts about the situation in Gaza/West Bank/Israel into this blog.

The Anglican angle here is that our Anglican brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Jerusalem are deeply caught up in care and concern for Christian brothers and sisters in this region of God's world, and, viewing messages from (e.g.) the Dean of St. George's Cathedral, Richard Sewell, and visitors to the cathedral, Anglicans have a special anxiety about how Palestinians are being treated as the war in Gaza continues and as the disturbances on the West Bank continue, mostly under-reported, as far as I can see, as so-called "settlers" are violent towards West Bank Palestinians. (Such quick observations are not the limit of the Anglican angle - but let me press on.)

Perhaps the first thing to say is that most of the world have no idea what it means to be Palestinian and to live in fear of what Israel or Israeli individuals or groups (e.g. incursions into West Bank) may do next to impose control on ordinary Palestinian lives, let alone control and restriction on expanding such ordinary lives (e.g. through travel, securing employment, developing businesses). Ditto re what it means to be Israeli (especially Israeli Jews) and to live in fear of what a future coherent, well armed, widely backed by regional powers Palestine might do by way of giving effect to the aspiration to cleanse Jews from the Middle East - to say nothing of fear of rockets from Gaza and southern Lebanon, and bombs and so forth, should the walls which prohibit movement of Palestinians in Israel came down. Most of us have no idea about what the climate of fear is in the background or foreground to everyday life in the Middle East. We do not (it seems to my notice) understand the deep commitment of Hamas to obliterate Israel as a state and to drive the Jews within away to some other (unknown, improbable) "homeland." [It is not from Poland that most Jews in Israel descend! And, many Jews in Israel have descent - via intermarriage through generations - with Jews actually indigenous to the area.] Nor, do we understand what it is like to fear that Israel is genocidal in its current intent to get on top of Hamas - because it is not only destroying Hamas soldiers but also ordinary Palestinian people.

Nevertheless, the second thing to say is that all of us who are not Palestinian or Israeli belong to other countries who are implored, both by high level officials and by lobby groups/protestors to give voice to some possible solution to the situation, whether it is voting in the UN for (say) a ceasefire, a two state or one state solution, recognition of the statehood of Palestine, denouncement of the alleged war crimes of Israel, and so forth. Neutrality is an option for many of us as individuals, but not for our governments who make decisions whether to vote for this resolution or that, and, depending on capability, may also choose to export arms to one or other side or both, and to make some sanctioning step against, say, Iran/Russia/China or, conversely, the USA, or some multinational company such as Coca-Cola, Pesi, McDonalds. More simply: those who do not understand what it means to live in the Middle East nevertheless are invited - frequently through many years of this conflict - to support a solution to the problems those living in the ME face. 

Yet, what is that solution to be? Recently our government voted with most of the world on a UN resolution supporting Palestinian statehood (I do not have the exact wording of the resolution in front of me and no time to look it up!). Cue protest that such a move basically was a resolution supporting the existence of Hamas - a terrorist organisation with its terrifying agenda for the future of Israeli Jews! However, not to promote some kind of “two state” solution is to ignore the plight of Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank, who long - as any of us would - for clarity, certainty and safety in independent, unthreatened statehood. And, yes, in case your fingers are itchy over the keyboard, I entirely get it (as I am sure our government gets it) that any such statehood must also be unthreatening to Israel itself.

Put alternatively, the space in which one might, whether as an individual or as a state government propose some way forward, is fraught. As a bishop I have had correspondence from brothers and sisters in Christ through the past six months which amounts to (a) how dare you and your fellow bishops give comfort to Hamas, or (b) how can you support Israeli genocide by not calling for an immediate ceasefire, or (c) it is unbelievable that you bishops have not made a statement about the situation (we have: the first, way back in October was scarcely noticed and not remembered; the second, more recently in late March, better noticed).

Nevertheless, fraught though the space for comment is, I personally cannot escape the following:

- there is no way forward without the states around Israel, including Iran, and Palestinian entities themselves recognising the right of Israel to exist as a state (whatever borders might finally be agreed to be the borders of that state);

- it is unrealistic to work on a one state solution (i.e. A state where Israeli citizens and Palestinian citizens freely mix and mingle and vote in democratic elections to choose a government which fairly leads all peoples within the state of (for want of a better working name) Israel-Palestine). Perhaps one hundred years from now that could happen (along with a united Ireland and a united Korea, but in my lifetime, that ain’t gonna work);

- a two state solution is therefore required and should be the aim of all participants in the matter (currently, at best, it is the aim of most participants - it needs to be all).

- whatever merits Israel may have in its current drive to obliterate Hamas with willingness to kill innocent Palestinians along the way, it surely only stokes future resentments which will harm the points above for a long, long time.

I pray for a just and permanent peace for the Middle East, and for the well-being of the Anglican church there.

Monday, May 6, 2024

From Bethel to Rome?

Continuing Reading Genesis, a purple patch of a book, but some parts are deeper purple, I found this, pp. 126-27:

"Theology is the study of God; anthropology is the study of humankind. Why are we so brilliant? Why are we so self-defeating and self-destructive? How is the diversity of languages to be accounted for? How do tribes and nations form and spread themselves over the earth? What constitutes a religious culture, and how does it perpetuate itself? These are all questions of anthropology; using the word in the modern sense. The Hebrew Bible raises them and responds to them in its own terms. The questions themselves indicate where the interest of the text lies - with humankind, God's image, among whom words like justice and righteousness have meaning, as they do when they are used of Him. Modern anthropology has tended to build upward or outward or downward from reductionist definitions, humankind as naked ape, as phenotype of the selfish gene. Biblical anthropology begins with an exalted conception of humanity, then ponders our errors and deficiencies and our capacities for grace and truth, within the world of meangingful freedom created for them by an omnipotent God. This seems paradoxical, but sustaining paradox is the genius of the text."

In other words, Genesis has a lot going on it - not merely a history (let alone a science) of the creation of the world and the beginnings of humankind - but a theological anthropology/anthropological theology which not only tells us about (say) why we are so brilliant or so self-destructive, but also who we are in the purpose of the world, which is a divinely appointed purpose, both permissive of human choices which potentially could defeat the purpose, and intrusive of human life so that choices we make are woven towards fulfilment of the purpose. Abraham and Sarah do produce a child; that child's grandchild, Jacob, does become Israel; Israel both begins in the promised land and by the end of the book is out of that land. Yet, the story at its settled end is incomplete relative to God's determination. We are an exalted part of creation and beset with self-imposed humiliations, none of which deters God from gracing those made in his image.

A different focus on humanity these days concerns gender identity. Ian Paul on his blog Psephzo posted recently with a blog titled "Gender Identity and the Christian Vision of Humanity." He begins in this way, which includes citations from an important British Catholic bishops' document:

"Last week, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a pastoral document on the question of gender identity in the light of biblical and theological understandings of what it means to be created male and female in the image of God. It is a fascinating, clear, refreshing and helpful statement, and like all Catholic statements is relatively concise (at 11 pages) but achieves a lot in that space. There have been some interesting reactions to it, and it tells us a lot about what it takes for a denomination to speak well into this complex and challenging issue.

The document is called Intricately Woven, a title which draws on Ps 139.13–15, which the document starts and ends with:

For you formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

This is powerful language to draw on, since it combines the pastoral and theological issues which meet in this discussion—the truth that we are creatures, created by God in the image of God, so there is a givenness to who we are (note the passive tense of ‘woven’), and the reality of the experience that human life is complex and at times puzzling. Both these realities are attended to through the document.

It is striking that, in contrast to other statements (including those from the Church of England) in this area, the bishops are clear and unapologetic about their challenge to a major aspect of contemporary culture—an absence in other places that the Cass report lamented.

The document, titled Intricately woven by the Lord: A pastoral reflection on gender by the bishops of England and Wales, emphasises that all are welcome in the Church, but says that the sexual identity of an individual is not a purely “cultural or social construction.”

The document refutes the idea, proposed by Gender Identity Theory, that everyone has an ‘inner’ gender identity, which sometimes fails to match the biological sex of the individual. It upholds the value of the body and importance of sexual differentiation.

The bishops assert that we are all created in the image of God, with a dignity given to us by our creator and stresses that leading people to the fullness of life in Christ is a journey rooted in truth as well as compassion."

Now the point of my drawing attention to the blogpost and to the document it refers to is not to engage with the question of gender identity - I do not have time, etc! But I am happy to note (with Ian - we do not always agree) that Catholic engagement with such matters often leaves Anglican engagement with the same looking decidedly thin gruel.

There is, of course, with the last cited paragraph in the excerpt above, a common stake in the ground with my citation from Marilynne Robinson's book: "we are all created in the image of God" and that is the starting point for all Christian anthropology.

Naturally, you are wondering by now, how I am going to get from Bethel (an important place in Genesis) to Rome? Fair question. Christian anthropology is concerned with human unity and human unity is, or should be modelled by the church. So, naturally, we look to Rome this week because last week that was where ... Anglican Primates met.

A very good article about the meeting is provided by The Living Church's Mark Michael. Read it to see interesting matters - how many provinces were represented? Apart from the actual numerical answer (30), we might answer the question with "less than ideal" (since the maximal answer is 42). And, perhaps, more interesting, a scheme to have an "alt prez" to the ABC seems to have been stopped in its tracks. Good, I say.

But the question of unity is not only about whether the Anglican Communion is united, it is also about progress in unity of all Christians. In Rome this question focuses on unity with Rome. The Vatican Press reports on a meeting held by Pope Francis with the Primates here.

Pope Francis does not disappoint and offers some lovely words of encouragement:

"The Lord calls each of us to be a builder of unity and, even if we are not yet one, our imperfect communion must not prevent us from walking together. In fact, “relations between Christians... presuppose and from now on call for every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels: pastoral, cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing to the Gospel message.[2] Our differences do not diminish the importance of the things that unite us: they “cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism”.[3] In this regard, I express my gratitude for the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission over the past fifty years, which has made great efforts to overcome various obstacles that stand in the way of unity, in the acknowledgment, first and foremost, that “the communion already shared is grounded in faith in God our Father, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit; our common baptism into Christ; our sharing of the Holy Scriptures, of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds; the Chalcedonian definition and the teaching of the Fathers; our common Christian inheritance for many centuries”.[4]"

Perhaps the best sentence (highlighted for me in a Tweet I saw) is this:

"It would be a scandal if, due to our divisions, we did not fulfil our common vocation to make Christ known.

May we fulfil that common vocation!