Sunday, June 23, 2024

Weekend news and views

If last Sunday, on Chatham Island, was brilliant weather wise, this Sunday, back in Christchurch is, well, miserable: wet and cold.

But yesterday there was some cheering news: our Synod, meeting in a special one day session, agreed to some changes re thye Cathedral Reinstatement Project - an injection of funds (subject to satisfactory sale of the Transitional Cathedral) and a reduction in scope of the Project (particularly to reduce our commitment to the building being 100% of New Building Standard, now down to 67% NBS). An RNZ report is here. We still have a mountain to climb for the Project to succeed but yesterday was an important step up the steep slope.

This morning my eye was caught on X/Twitter by an article about a famous NT scholar, Geza Vermes, published in Church Times. Well worth a read for those interested in the question of what "the Jewish Jesus" means - a question which Vermes refined with acute insight, out of a fascinating personal spiritual journey.

Reading this short article links to some reading of my own through the past couple of weeks: Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul's Gospel by Douglas A. Campbell and Jon DePue. I haven't finished this book yet and hope to review it on here in due course. But a strong motivation through this book is that Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity influenced by what they call "Justification Theory") might review and revise its attitude to Jews and Judaism.

For what it is worth my hunch is that my review will be along the lines of "love the conclusion, disagree with the pathway to it"!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Lovely day

I am writing from the Chathams - from Chatham Island (also known as Rekohu or Wharekauri) to be precise - there are a number of small islands hereabouts but only two are inhabited - the other one is Pitt Island.

The Chatham Islands are one of the parishes for the Diocese of Christchurch and, while easy to get to due to a regular plane service, they are not easy to get to when it comes to booking a spot of several days not only in my diary but also in the diaries of parishioners, themselves often busy with things here and/or travel to New Zealand. The plane trip is 2 hours +/- depending on whether departing from Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland airports, and which direction the wind is blowing - our actual flight time the other day was 1 hr 40 min.

We have one church here, St. Augustine's, which is at a small settlement called Te One, about 3 km from the main settlement of Waitangi. There is also a vicarage on the same property as the church which ensures accommodation for visiting priests and bishops! 

For this visit I am accompanied by the Reverend Mike Hawke who will be involved with the parish in months and years ahead as a visiting priest, succeeding the Reverend John McLister.

The primary reason for visiting at this time of the year - mid June, winter - is that it works for the Preece family to gather to participate in an event this afternoon when we formally unveiled the memorial stones for two members of that family.

The Reverend Riwai Preece was our last resident priest on the island (1990-2015). Mr Bunty Preece, his brother, was mayor here, a farmer here and notable at the time of his death in 2018 for being the last surviving officer of the famous WW2 Maori Battalion. 

It was a privilege to be part of this afternoon's ceremony along with about 60 others. A sumptuous afternoon tea followed - including crayfish, groper wings, and weka [yes, legal to eat on this island, in case you are wondering].

Amazingly, after a raw and wintry day yesterday, with the sea foaming, the wind roaring and rain falling, today was gorgeous: sunny, warm, and hardly any wind. God be praised!

Our morning service was delightful and we managed to do ordinary but important things (apart from the service itself) such as pray for the new vestry, pray for Mike Hawke and his ministry here and dedicate a refurbished window (thanks Halswell Men's Shed!).

The epistle today, 1 Corinthians 5:6-10, challenged us about aspiring to please Christ above all, and to walk by faith and not by sight. The gospel reading, Mark 4:26-34, brought the kingdom of God to our attention. What is Jesus doing in our lives? What is he saying to us? What is he calling us to do?

Walking by faith and not by sight has a certain irony for Chatham Islanders at present. There have been troubles recently re sea transport of goods to the island, with one sharp consequence being that there is no petrol for sale here. Diesel is for sale still. Bottled gas supplies are running low. Boat troubles also mean that farmers have uncertainty about getting their cattle and sheep to meat works in New Zealand. Everyone believes the situation will come right before absolute crisis is reached, but no one can see clearly when the solution will chug into the harbour!

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Nothing Post!

I cannot squeeze time to post this week, apart from these few sentences. Weekend events and prep work as I write in the weekend itself. Then, Monday to Wednesday, our Clergy Conference is happening. Thursday some travel begins.

Prayer - as always - appreciated! 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Was Jesus mad? Did his erstwhile supporters, even family gaslight him?

If you don't like the look of this week's blogpost, then how about reading Edward Feser's fascinating post insteadfascinating post instead? He talks appreciatively of one of my favourite philosophers!

Was Jesus mad is a question which arises from this coming Ordinary Sunday 10's gospel reading? 

Mark 3:21: When [Jesus'] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." [NRSV; other translations, equally possible re the underlying Greek, have "He has gone mad."] 

Neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark on this particular note, which, arguably, was embarrassing for followers of Jesus.

This Markan passage also raises the question whether people around Jesus, possibly even his own family, were gaslighting him (i.e. making statements about him which may have unsettled him and paradoxically may contribute to a person accused of madness becoming convinced that they are mad!)

For those unfamiliar, gaslighting has been defined in this way: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition." As an aside, some diocesan training the other day, looking at bullying, also discussed gaslighting.

In at least one sense, Jesus was "mad". If we define "mad" as "at odds with the widely accepted norms of society, going against the grain of culturally acceptable behaviour", then Jesus as "mad": by this time in Mark's account of his life's work, he had taken on the role of God in forgiving a paralysed man his sins, he had called people to leave their safe and secure jobs to follow him, he had confronted demons and delivered people of them, he had healed people and he had generally defied the religious (i.e. cultural) authorities of the accepted Jewish way of life, especially in breaking sabbath keeping rules. The passage which follows Mark 3:21 involves a severe charge against Jesus that he was himself an agent of the devil (a charge which even Matthew and Luke do not shy away from reporting).

Two thousand years later we think Jesus the man was full of sound wisdom and good life guidance, and his healing work led ultimately to the medical systems millions if not billions around the world benefit from, and the first followers have become the well-known, well-established church of God with its footprint in nearly every country in the world. Jesus, from this present day perspective was not and is not "mad" but a very normal bloke!

Nevertheless, there is a lingering question prompted by Mark's account: was Jesus someone who we would not feel that comfortable around? Yes, we would be drawn, like the crowds, to his genius as a teacher-communicator, and to the stories of his miracle working prowess. Yes, we might be inspired to follow him, leaving our nets etc. But might we also wonder who he really was? What his "deep" agenda actually entailed? Whether there was something very odd about this charismatic-yet-enigmatic figure?

Of course Mark does not exactly shy away from Jesus as a figure with several if not many layers to personality and agenda. He emphasises the "messianic secret" - the fact that Jesus' had a deeper agenda than people assumed at first sight when encountering him. He presents a Jesus who is all comms and public relations with the crowds and yet likes to withdraw and be alone. From near the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark develops the "dark theme" that Jesus will die, that his crowd-pulling ministry will lead to death - and death at the baying cries of pretty much the same crowd. 

And, let's be honest with ourselves as readers of Mark's Gospel: in the Gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark 3:20-35, Jesus is a "maddening" man: he puts his family into second place, if not cast to some outer place, owning to a new family, the ones who do God's will as better than the natural kith and kin to which he belongs, and which Jewish law bound him to support and cherish. 

Of course, we read this passage with all the perspective of post-resurrection readers: God worked out a plan for the universes through Jesus, a plan which puts all "normal" human relationships into perspective, and a plan which calls out the deepest and most long term allegiance to the key agent of the plan, Jesus the Son of God!