02 August 2011

Walking on Water, Anyone?

The following was intended for the parish pew-sheet/newsletter, but it seems our interregnum now that he has 'arrived' will be picking up the task. I managed to get similar articles, my reflections on the Gospel of the day, in for each of the last three Sundays. but it seems my run is over. I didn't want to waste this one so I'm posting it here in the hope that someone may see it.


I found the following in an article on poetry (link below)… T.S. Eliot, who, when asked to interpret the line “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree in the cool of the day…” from his poem “Ash Wednesday,” responded, “It means ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree in the cool of the day.’ ”

If we were able to question Matthew, writer of the first Gospel we encounter in our Bibles, to interpret the line ‘during the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake’ (Matt 14:25), would he, do you suppose, take a leaf from Eliot’s book and say “it means, ‘during the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake’”. We can come up with rational explanations for the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand” – the boy (who Matthew does not mention, though John does) prepared as he was to share his five pita breads and two salted fish, shamed everyone else who had food with them into sharing what they had and hey!, miracle of miracles, everyone had plenty.

There is no possibility of the same order of rational explanation for Jesus miraculous walking on the water. There were no convenient sand bars (Robert has a joke he will share with you on ‘walking on water’ and ‘sand bars’) nor were there special flotation devices, obliging dolphins, nor helicopters that Jesus might have hung beneath on an invisible wire. And Weta Workshop was still a couple of thousand years away!

So what do we do with this section of the narrative. Surely we can’t take it literally - or can we? What are the alternatives? This man, this Son of God, (so the story says) goes on to heal many sick people, feed another large crowd from equally meagre resources, raise Lazarus from the dead and eventually is raised from the dead himself. If Christ be not raised from the dead” says Paul, “our faith is in vain” (I’m quoting from a sometimes faulty memory here, one that grew up a Pentecostal and with the King James Version of the Bible).

I’m resolved not to be an unthinking and reactionary literalist in my approach to scripture, but sometimes, it seems to me, the principle of Occam’s Razor – the principle, put simply, that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, might be applied to some of the miracles in the Gospel. Any other ‘rational’ explanation has got to be ridiculously complicated, surely? But I’m a poet of sorts, one who sees the proof for God’s existence and the possibility of the miraculous every time I take a shiny, beautiful red capsicum in my hand to cut it into my chicken stir-fry.

Think about it all and get back to me.

Richard

Poets and lovers of poetry go here:

(http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/beyond-translation/?hp

20 July 2011

Meditating On Mustard Seeds and the Making of Bread (Matthew 13:31-33,44-45)

This is a wee article I wrote for our church newsletter - this coming Sunday's (24 July 2011) edition. I wrote one last week too which I may post later. I must say I felt a bit cheeky doing it. Normally Michael our vicar would have done this but he is now the vicar of Fred's Pass near Darwin in Australia's Northern Territories (an outreach to the crocodile population) and we have barely begun the process of finding a new vicar though our retiring Archdeacon will be our priest-in-charge in the meantime. I wrote as follows:

This Sunday we have another parable involving seeds and sowing, but instead of the image from the Gospel reading of two Sundays ago, an image of a sower striding across a large area of ground, distributing seeds handful after handful, we have an image single seed, perhaps more carefully and deliberately sown, that grows, not into a harvest of grain but into a single tree.

The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds still visible to the naked eye and from it grows a tree, a shrub, of some 2 to 2.5 metres in height. While there were bigger trees in Palestine for Jesus to make parables about, most commentators would draw our attention to the contrast he seems to be making between the size of the original seed with the fully grown tree. Jesus seems to be saying that his Kingdom would, from such seemingly insignificant beginnings grow into something of considerable substance. And indeed it has!

Tom Wright tells us that this parable and the companion parables throughout this passage are as much about waiting, and trusting as we wait, difficult as the waiting might prove to be – “trusting in the unfolding realm of our God, trusting that a small seed will grow, trusting that a small amount of leaven will do its work, trusting that you and I may indeed perceive the hidden worth of a small treasure, that we might take hold of the pearl of great price.” There was perhaps a sense in Jesus time that God’s return to reign was not coming fast enough, and certainly a there was a sense that the coming kingdom as Jesus envisaged and declared it was not the kind of kingdom the learned men of Israel were expecting. In their minds what Jesus was offering seemed to them to be about as significant as a mustard seed. They were impatient to see the Kingdom come on their terms and some at least were prepared to use violence against others (other Jews as well as Romans), or to sanction the use of violence by others, to speed its coming.

The image of the seed sown and the plant emerging can be further examined in the light of Jesus’ saying from John’s Gospel, “I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” My feeling is that a truer Kingdom of Heaven can only grow out of the death of our false expectations of the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of our own imagining of such a Kingdom. Are we prepared to die to our dreams and expectations, to the sense of our own significance in the process, and thereby become the seed that ‘falls into the earth and dies’, so that God’s dreamed-of mustard tree, can grow and be the place where even the ‘birds of the air’ (and we might understand them as those who come to us from outside the church, seeking sanctuary, salvation and healing) can nest in its branches. Can we be trusting enough of God, and patient enough, as we wait through the germination and growing processes?

There may be things we can apply from these sayings of Jesus to the situation in which we find ourselves since Michael and Anne’s departure? Is it only in our dying that we will see ‘much fruit’? Is it in our patient waiting and trusting that we will see the ‘realm of God’ rather than any realm of our own making, further unfold in Christ Church, Whangarei? And is it only by bringing the leaven from the dough and loaf of Michael and Anne’s ministry among us, that we will see our present, new loaf rising, ready for the oven and for the feeding of many?

Having my wife as editor and compiler of our little church newsletter and having a parade of local clergy doing 'one night stands' so to speak, with no-one to slap my wrists, has made it easy for me to sneak this and the previous article in.

I've tried to be conservative in my comments and reflect not so much my own thoughts but those of others, though the questions in the last paragraph especially are questions that I alone have framed.

So get baking friends - there are many who are hungry out there!

24 May 2011

Once She Came as a Dove

In Palestine once she came as a dove,
and to Ireland she came,
the wind whistling in her wing tips,
as a wild goose;
but she comes to my garden
a small dark bird,
dark among the dark leaves,
darker than emerald or jade.

And she speaks with two voices,
and at the same time,
and with no gloss on her glossolalia.

One declares a new word from heaven:

"Hear what the Lord would say ...
'Woe to him who reads my words
just for mathematics sake
and then is bold to fix a date
for my judgement day.
I have other days in mind', says the Lord."

The other with metalepsis mellifluous
sings the prophets thus:

"Don't go playing no shell games with God..."
"There's no success like failure..."

The word said, she may linger;
she may hymn the grace
that lifts the shadow off the Western Hills
as the sun rises, glorious, through autumn mist
or she may take her prophecy
and sing it out
in another garden.

tuesday 24 May 2011 @ Maunu, Whangarei

30 March 2011

Languishing in a Moral Universe..

Has it been over a year since I last posted here - I can barely believe it. Mind you It was a tough year and I just wanted to pull my head in and hide like a threatened snail in the gaze of a hungry thrush.

I did some thinking this morning about 'signs from God' and why certain, people (christian ones particularly) assume that little things that happen in their daily lives are signs from God. Let me illustrate.

A CC (concerned christian) sits down at their computer to write to the editor of their local newspaper to expose the falsehoods of an equally local polititian. Our CC types away furiously failing to save the document as they go and just as they reach the end of their complaint there is a city-wide power out-age. The computer dies (it's not a laptop with a battery) and seemingly the document is lost - and such a shame too, as CC expressed themselves so very well and may never again be able to do so.

Some might say, "a sign from God - he didn't want CC to send this letter into the newspaper" Maybe the chance of being sued for slander was too great. Maybe he was sparing CC from embarressment..maybe! Maybe!! Maybe!!"

Maybe it was Satan caused the out-age. Isn't he on the side of lying politians. Maybe he didn't want to see his 'friend' exposed but rather to remain in office spreading more lies and confusion, so advancing the Kingdom of Darkness.

And if neither God nor Satan exist? Everything then is random, meaningless and however we try from our Christian perspective to see patterns of grace and providence in the odd events and coincidences of our lives, our 'signs from God' are self-deceptions.

I do believe in God. I believe some stuff about Satan - that there are limits to his power, and I don't like to give him too much credit for very much at all. What I don't believe is that a situation as I have illustrated above should be interpreted as a sign from or an intervention from God. It's not that I don't believe he can and does intervene and communicate with us, I just find it too big a leap of faith to believe that this his how he does so very very often (if we are to believe other Christian folk). In fact I find it hard sometimes to nail down for myself the 'mechanisms' by which he does involve himself with us and guide us. I do wish I could - my life would be so much less troubled and difficult.

Part of the reason I have trouble with 'signs from God' of this nature is that they can so readily be interpreted in other ways and perhaps even be equally attributable to the Evil One. We all know of the terrible harm that comes in the wake of someone who is so sure they've heard from God and have not, or have grossly misinterpreted what they though they heard.

And the other reason I have the trouble I do, is that there are such long chains of cause and effect in our Universe that it is beyond any of us to trace them to source and so ascertain a possibility that the hand of a spiritual being (good or evil)has been in them.

Looking at my illustration again, it could be that the timing of power out-age had nothing to do with CC at all and that it was actually a sign from God for someone about to fall into a much more serious error, or an intervention from the Devil because a much more serious sin than those of our local polititian was about to be exposed. Who can say?

So how are we guided as Christians. We have Scripture, we have the Holy Spirit and we have the wisdom of our elders, pastors and other brothers and sisters. But how do they all work to give us certainty in an uncertain Universe. Take Scripture for example - the words of our Book beg for interpretation whether we be literalists or liberals. And history is littered with the consequences of our less than inspired interpretations of our Bible. And others have attributed some pretty weird and off-the-wall stuff to their being led by the Spirit. 58 years on and I ought to know - I let my own interpretation of a dream I had get me into some serious trouble. Though, to be fair to God, he did bring good out of it.

As American singer songriter Bob Franke has it in his song "Hard Love" - "For the Lord's cross might redeem us, but our own just wastes our time/And to tell the two apart is always hard, love.

Time is a precious commodity ("time is money" the lawyer said!) and chasing down some highway cos we got a 'sign' wastes our time an leaves us with a journey back that we'd rather not have to take sometimes, such is the pain and embarressment of it.

Bob's song continues:

Yes, it's hard love, but it's love all the same
Not the stuff of fantasy, but more than just a game
And the only kind of miracle that's worthy of the name
For the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love


I leave these thoughts with you and hope they are of value as you consider your lives and how you propose to live them out from here.

kia kaha

Richard

14 February 2010

Taking Something Back

Hi Folks,

Thought I should take back the idea (from my previous post)that evangelical writers don't think long enough or deeply enough etc. I'm sure that many do think long and deeply. Philip Yancey's "What's So Amazing about Grace" for instance was a deeply thought out book and I have carried much of it, its words and its spirit, with me on my journey since I read and explored it with others of my parish, during a Lenten study a few years ago.

I do think though that no one book is the final word on its chosen subject (unless it was written by Tom Wright - only kidding). And we do arrive at the books we read with a particular set of filters (blinkers)on, either seeing in them what we want to see, so that they bolster/shore up our comfy little theological position, or have us say 'that's so typical of his kind of Christian - has he never read any...?(insert your favorite theologian/writer here).

I guess I have my own perculiar set of filters/blinkers. I like to pretend (rightly or wrongly) that I'm closer to the truth of things than some others in my wider world and maybe some day when its healthy for my ego and healthy for you too, then I will be. Until then I remain just another pilgrim looking for a meal, a soul to share it with and a few tales over the table, and when the eating and the story-telling are done, a place to sleep and a chance to wake refreshed for another day on the road.

God bless all such pilgrims cos its a long and winding road, but don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better,

Richard

30 December 2008

Am I, As a Christian, Allowed to have a Sense of Humour

Hi to all who amble by on the off chance that I might have added something new. I'm not the world's best Blogger and it seems I have other faults besides. Seems I have a sense of humour. Most of the folks who don't like me having a sense of humour don't put a 'u' in the word. Seems too that these folks are Christians. A least they patronise the "Learn Worship Guitar" clips on Youtube.

One of these clips in particular was entitled "Christian Guitar Chords" I couldn't help myself! I post a comment - "how are Christian Guitar Chords different from non-Christian Guitar Chords". One guy responded (and politely too) by saying my question was funny but then really seriously explained to me that "there is no difference - chords are chords". I guess I need to pull my tongue out of my cheek. I also said that I didn't love the singer's voice (I didn't slag him for having a bad voice) in response to someone else commenting that they loved the guy's voice. Was that being rude. I think not!!

Then for I laugh I responded with: "Yeah! I ask funny questions a lot - my tongue is ever in my cheek. Such is my sense of humour. Does sound though like there maybe chords a christian shouldn't use. Minor keys are demonic you know. Stay out of hell - write in the major keys only. If only!!" Some young guitar player who has posted videos of himself shredding his way through some Nickelback tunes on an electric guitar decided I needed to be called a 'douche-bag' for suggesting minor keys are demonic. Nice of him!! I didn't return the complement. After all, he didn't seem to be a Christian and I didn't want give him just cause for calling all the rest of us 'douche-bags'. . Other folks who seemed to be saying that they were Christ-followers displayed rudeness enough, saying to me "shut-up your stupid mouth" and calling me an 'ugly' and that I should stop trying to be funny and mind my own business.

When I commented that certain folks should be ashamed for their rudeness I got this comment: "we're not being rude we're fighting for our God..." Yeah right!! Then he said: "please do give proof that minor keys are demonic...we'll all be waiting for it.." This after I had commented: "I really was joking about minor keys being demonic but that's what the Pentecostals I grew up with in the 50s and 60s seemed to truly believe (I don't)" Some of my favourite hymns are in a minor key.

Why am I telling you all this. I just needed to express my gobsmackedness somewhere, preferably where humourless, graceless cretins weren't going to hack at me with their mis-spelt, misdirected and ill considered missives. I know its not nice to talk about one's fellow-Christians in this manner but quite frankly they seem hellbent on advancing the Christian faith backward through a bramble hedge into a bog. And that's saying it nicely!!

There is some ghetto mentality in some branches of our Christian faith that believes that any artistic endeavor that attempts to speak of, witness to or praise God and Jesus is above and beyond critique. Some how it is so holy that even to make a gentle good humoured joke about it or anything remotely connected or tangential to it, is somehow to declare yourself the enemy of the Christian faith and a speaker of dirty blasphemies. We are all meant (or so we seem to think the Bible tells us) to be nice to one another and in that context are expected to tolerate the artistically intolerable rather than hurt the feelings of the 'artist'.

There is, of course, a right and loving way of telling a brother or sister that they don't have what it takes to be a singer or a songwriter, a poet or an artist. The context has to be right - a context of genuine love and community - a context you will never find under a You tube posting. You have to know that the person being critiqued can take the criticism. The dear souls who believe they have a gift when it is patently clear to the rest of us that they do not, are often the ones that can't take criticism however loving and tactful and are devastated by it.

I've met some of these souls in a number of varieties. Some have sung their songs at me with great enthusiasm, but so tunelessly, so I couldn't be sure of the melody or whether the accompanying guitar chords were the most appropriate at the given moment. There was no sense in the lyric of a theological or doctrinal idea being developed, just a lot of religious phrases being rehashed; no poetry, poor grammar. It is hoped that I can help them to get published or recorded or just sung in my church. What am I supposed to say? The truth would be best, but the truth can sound so harsh. And why should it be me delivering it? Some of these folks have been pushed into approaching me by people who should, for one thing, have better developed sense of aesthetics and for another, given that they have the closer relationship with the person, should be the ones trying to let them down gently. But no!

I'll not linger on the other 'varieties' except to say in passing that I have been approached by folks who insist that the Holy Spirit 'gave' them a song. I've tried to be nice. I've sat with them and tried to add guitar chords to their meandering or monotonous melodies and it becomes quite apparent that the creative Spirit of God had little, if anything, to do with this offering. The poor should bringing it is convinced it contains some vital message from God that the local congregation, if not the world, needs to hear.

And then there are the gallahs logging onto Youtube looking for Christian heroes to teach their bumbling fingers to navigate the intricacies of the popular Worship Song, who gush with admiration at their heroes' mundane voices and the ordinary guitar-playing, and would crucify you or me for daring to say how ordinary their heroes abilities are, or for daring to say just how devoid of artistic merit their latest song, their latest Youtube-posted performance is. And they may think you the Devil Incarnate if you dare to be humorous while you do so. Some want to be the heroes but they don't appreciate how public a forum Youtube is and that you can and will get hurt there.

At least I didn't mention SEX or offer an alternative doctrine of THE RAPTURE!! Now that really would be asking for trouble. Plenty of time to do that later.

'Til next time,

Richard




24 October 2008

Fr. Prebble' Memorial and the St Paul's Singers Reunion

This post is for a few of you out there who want to know how the memorial service for Father Ken Prebble was, especially as it morphed into a St Paul’s Singers reunion. It didn’t so much morph really, but it was one of the very special aspects of a very lovely day.


Sue and I stayed with John on the Friday and Saturday nights and Christine Alan-Johns came over on the Friday night. We got to run through the songs (“Arise My Love”, “Brother Sister…”, and the “Our Father”) but we made lots of time to talk and catch up with Chris and she with us.


We all were at the cathedral pretty much 2 hours before the service and there were hugs all round as you would imagine. We finally got to rehearse and we made a great sound despite the many years gone by and the fact that some of us hadn’t done a lot of singing recently. It was especially nice to have Patsy on board. She and Sue made a duet of the opening verse of “Arise My Love” and everyone was in on the refrain. I added a tenor line in a later verse (or was it 2 – I forget!). We seem to feel we sang better in the rehearsal than in the service.


The service was a simple one of hymns, prayers and eulogies. I particularly enjoyed Michael Hurst’s humorous telling of Father P’s entry into acting after he’d retired from the ministry. There were eulogies too from the family including grandson Toby and one from Mark Beale.


The congregation joined us in “Brother, Sister...” and in the “Our Father” which concluded Bishop John’s prayers.


There were not as many of the old St Paulites as I imagined would be there. And there were quite a few in the congregation who seemed not to make it to the ‘refreshments’ after the service. I did spot the Brays in the service for instance, but never got to speak to them. The Bernards and the Aitkens were there, as was Joan Hurst. Richard Terezopolis (I’m guessing at the spelling, though a Google search on this spelling confirms it is valid) was there as was Father Terry and Alison Molloy. Some of you may remember Rev Ray Muller and his wife Elaine from those heady days at the Massey Summer Schools (if not from more recent encounters) – they were there. And of course there were that great tribe called Prebble led by their matriarch, Mary. Edward ended up singing with us. I chatted with his wife Sherrell and also with John Kite. The more I write the more I remember.


After the refreshments some of us attended the ‘scattering’ of Father Prebble’s ashes in the top garden at St Paul’s (there was a wee hole dug) – a ceremony led by Edward at which we sang ‘Come Go With Me to that Land”. A plaque is planned to mark the spot and commemorate the man.


After that, we Singers retired to Jenny and Graham Lawrey’s country estate for more singing, reminiscing and for food and wine. Graham and Jenny were as ever, a gracious host and hostess. Kim King (Miller) was to have sung with us but didn’t arrive in time to rehearse, came with husband Ken to Jen and Graham’s. Sadly Patsy and Peter, and Grae Thorne and Annie Tindall had other commitments and couldn’t be there.


I did sing a verse of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” for you, Keri, to ensure you were with us in spirit at least - one of those songs we used to sing at your piano all those years ago before the St Paul's Singer were even a twinkle in John Smiths eye.


All in all it was a good fun day and I’m sure all who made it were glad they did. As for you who didn’t – maybe next time!


In closing I would like to remember Doreen Taylor who was not able to be there and has since died. We love you, Doreen and are sad to see you go. We will see you in due course, no doubt, at God,s great Festival of Friends.


God bless us all, everyone…..