Thursday, September 14, 2017

CP 283 A most wondrous painting...

CP 283 A most wondrous painting…
Friends, it is now well over two months since Rose and I hit the road with Fred and Inta Gollasch. Actually, that isn’t quite the right way to put it. If we have hit anything it’s those memorable places in Australia’s centre and west, many of which are somehow lodged in the nation’s collective genes. We have travelled vast distances. We began at Ayers Rock – Uluru (The dingo took my baby, It’s raining on the Rock), then the Olgas, then Kings Canyon and Alice Springs (Stuart - the Telegraph, the Ghan). Off along the MacDonnell Ranges to Hermannsburg and places like Standley Chasm and Ellery Big Hole. Follow that with the Devils Marbles and on to Barrow Creek where the Backpacker murder took place. You will no doubt recognise many of these place names because they are deeply etched into the Australian psyche and folklore. They are part of the mystique which embraces us.
To continue, Mataranka (We of the Never Never), Katherine Gorge, Litchfield (waterfalls, swimming), Darwin (Bombing, Cyclone Tracy, crocodiles), and Kakadu (Ubirr art site, crocodiles).  Off into WA, starting at Kununurra (The Ord River Scheme, crocodiles, Argyle diamonds). Down to the Bungle Bungles – Purnululu, then down to Hall’s Creek, Victoria River Crossing and Fitzroy Crossing. We’ve been through Broome (Cable Beach, pearls), and the Pilbara (Karijini, Tom Price – iron ore, red dust) and Exmouth (More cyclones, Turquoise Beach). Currently we are at Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef. We still have a bit of travelling to do and the WA wildflowers are between us and Perth.
On the way we’ve seen ever-changing landscapes, flora and fauna, and met fellow travellers from all parts of Australia and all over the world. They were young and old, grey nomads and young families, backpackers and youngish European professionals. Some had been on the road for 5 years, some go north every year for 4-5 months, and some overseas people were on the 7th or 8th trip to this country. A couple of times we have camped along the road but mostly we have stayed in caravan parks. Park facilities were occasionally suspect, but the people have invariably been friendly. We have always felt safe.
You might notice that I’ve used almost no adjectives! There’s a reason. Everywhere we met people I’d ask what they had enjoyed or appreciated most. As Macca would say on Australia All Over, ‘We heard stories so grand, of this vast timeless land.’ Probably the most frequent adjective we heard was ‘gorgeous’, followed by ‘gobsmacked’. Others included stunning, awesome, (by the younger set) amazing, breathtaking, gosh and wow. Much of what we saw Rose and I had seen on earlier trips but it was fresh and gripping in new ways. For Fred and Inta, everything, absolutely everything, was first time.
Inevitably we asked each other whether there was one overwhelming sight or place or experience. For Fred G it hasn’t been one specific thing but more about colour – the blazing sun on the red rock in the ranges and gorges, white gums against that fiery red background, the birds, the honeycomb striations in the ‘Bungle beehives’, the remarkable fresh green tips on the burnt spinifex after rain, or the turquoise waters of the West Coast, the colours of the reef fish. For Inta G, the spectacular unfolding of new vistas around every corner, and over every hill or sand dune, have kept her spellbound. Add to that the vivid sunsets, the brilliance and variety of the flowers of trees and bushes and midget shrubs, the birdlife, the wildlife. For Rose it was the never-ending variety on which she could feast her eyes and renew her spirit as the journey has unfolded.
My initial answer was to single out one place, one caravan park, on the edge of Lake Kununurra, for its peaceful stillness in the early morning and early evening each day. It was about birdsong and bird flight, sunrise and sunset on the surrounding hills, the occasional freshwater crocodile gliding silently by – serenity and tranquillity, restfulness, gentle conversations, drawing breath, a quiet ale.
One day a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that there was something else which had imprinted itself in my heart, and given me endless joy, day after day after day. And this was? Well, it was simply the way the vistas of the Outback, in their stunning variety and beauty and life, were forever overwhelming Fred and Inta. If their whole being were a canvas for a great artist, then he was painting a kaleidoscopic masterpiece for which words are both inadequate and superfluous. Those two have been experiencing the creation without being able to process it all, or even needing to process it at all. It’s been enough to simply be in it, to see the glory of it, to know the sacredness of it. More than that, their delight and joy and wonder at the marvel of creation became delight and joy and wonder in their Lord and God whose word spoke it into existence. Each day they have known fresh revelations of the creator, and though these impressions may have left them speechless, this in itself has become their praise of the Lord. They will never be the same. They have themselves become a wondrous revelatory painting…
Two comments…
First, something ugly. Just once I received an appalling answer to my query about what was most impressive. “You have no Mexicans and no blacks!” Obscene! Awful.
Secondly, an overwhelming sense of privilege about being able to do this travel, especially against a background of refugees streaming out of Myanmar, flooding affecting 41 million people in Asia, Mexican earthquakes, hurricanes impacting the Caribbean islands, Cuba, Haiti and Mexico, not forgetting the USA. We are so rich as a nation, as are many of us personally, overflowing with daily bread, even as some of our politicians tell us we are getting poorer and rush to cut back aid (and compassion) for the suffering and displaced and poor all over the world. It has sometimes felt self-indulgent and selfish. If Jesus were to address me directly I would…? This has to be changing me too.

Peace. Fred

Saturday, August 26, 2017

CP 282 Why I'll vote 'No'.

CrossPurposes 282 Why I’ll be voting ‘No’…
Australians are being asked to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in a voluntary postal plebiscite about Same-sex Marriage or what has been termed Marriage Equality. Personally, I am glad the legislators have given each of us an opportunity express our view / belief. I may not agree with the final outcome but it is important that Parliament hears all our voices. It’s good that our system of Government allows this. Every Australian will have their own standpoint, whether strongly held or indifferent. Here’s my own thinking.
I wish I could vote ‘Yes’ in this survey. The cry of the marginalised and demonised is not lost on me. Humans rejoice in loving and being loved, and long to be affirmed in that love. I especially hate bullying and discrimination. Everything within me wants to oppose oppression, to see people relieved of impossible burdens. Of course people want to be treated equally. However I can’t vote ‘Yes’…
Cultures and societies move, and like anybody else in Australia I want to be part, freely, of the ebbs and flows of what makes this nation tick. If you know me, you will know that I’m not the least interested in tradition if the tradition is meaningless. Often things must change, and refusal to change can lead, at best, to irrelevance, and at worst, to a dying culture. So why not vote ‘Yes’? For me, it’s about conscience.
In 1971, at age 21, a light shone in my heart which has never dimmed. In fact, it gets brighter year by year. I discovered that Jesus the Christ was not simply an historical figure whose history has been embroidered by clever and imaginative disciples. He is alive. He is my alive Lord. He lives in my heart. In who he is, and what he did, is my forgiveness, my life and hope and joy. He is my Lord and I answer to him. I know about him through the Word, both Old Testament pointing to him and New Testament revealing the Father’s heart in him. His Cross and Resurrection together is pure grace. This is my belief.
With that belief comes the conviction that the Word is true, and it is truth. I am bound by it.  My conscience is bound by it. There are matters about which I am not free to disagree with my Lord. This issue of Marriage Equality is one of them. How so? In what the Lord revealed to Moses about ‘same-sex relationships’, he left no doubt about what he thought. Recorded in the book called Leviticus, the Lord God Almighty said ‘No’. Under no circumstances! That ‘No’ is powerfully restated in Romans Chapter 1. There is not the slightest evidence, not even the merest hint, that the Lord God Almighty had, or has, changed his mind. Jesus himself insisted that he had not come to abolish an iota of the Law or the Prophets. He too was delivering a crystal clear ‘No’. (Matthew 5) Same sex relationships are sinful. They remain sin. In conscience I’m not free to say otherwise.
I know Jesus the Christ - the Holy One - is all about love and forgiveness. It is precisely because he is all about holy love and forgiveness that we know, and need to know, he does not condone sin. His mercy and love can never translate to approval. This is how my conscience is formed and this determines that in October I will be voting ‘No’.
I will conclude this with a quote from Martin Luther, whose great ‘conscience’ declaration was made almost 500 years ago:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason… my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe…

Friday, August 25, 2017

CP 281 When the garlic became toxic

CP 281 When the garlic became toxic…
Around the time I was the resident reverend in Eudunda in the early 1980’s, a bunch of blokes were in the occasional habit of camping overnight in the scrub about 20kms from town. Being blokes, there was generous sampling of the amber fluid and the port. Consequently there was lots of unwinding jollity which is permissible when the ‘missus’ is not present. Of course the cooking was, well, basic. On one of those trips, when it wasn’t yet winter but still close to freezing at night, one of those fellows, whose nickname was Hippy, felt the urge to taste one of his culinary delights which was forbidden at home. Hippy loved garlic with his steak, the more the better. Couldn’t use enough of it. His lady couldn’t stand the stuff, so bush camping was the perfect place to over-indulge. When the large T-bones hit the plate they were accompanied by an abundance of the aromatic herb. The steaks were consumed with relish.
Came the time to bed down and a contented, inebriated and tired Hippy wobbled his way into his little tent accompanied by his dog. He was asleep in a flash. Yet not twenty minutes later he was wide awake because the dog was disturbing the peace with a troubled and incessant whimpering, all the while scratching at the zipper. Told to ‘shut up,’ the dog whimpered more and then began to howl. The mutt wanted out of that tent, as of right now! The master might be the master, and the master might be much loved, but the dog couldn’t stand to be in that garlic-flavoured prison for a moment longer. Man’s best friend had concluded that in the circumstances it was better to be outside and freezing than ‘dying’ in a confined space!
I recently recounted that episode to friends while we were cooking, with garlic, a month or so ago. Of course we had a good laugh. Over the weeks since I’ve come to see what a remarkable parable it might be for what can happen in relationships. So here is a question. Is there anything going on in your life which might act as an overdose of ‘garlic’ which impacts on any or all of your relationships? Let’s consider…
·        You harbour bitterness in your heart. Something happened… you were angry and aggrieved… couldn’t, wouldn’t, were unable to forgive… you were right, of course you were. You were thwarted, cheated, ignored and mistreated. You have carefully nursed the resentment and desire for ‘justice’, and it has become an infection in your spirit. How does that impact on your loved ones? Do they want to be close to you as you moan and groan, and mutter and grumble under your breath? Or are they wishing they could be somewhere else? Or do they rather stand up to you and fight for their ‘space’? Or do they, perhaps, escape the harshness by going inside themselves, into that safe place in the heart, and shut down?
·        Even straightforward anger. There is a time for anger. There are circumstances in which it would be sinful not to be angry. Somehow, though, you are prickly, quick to anger… aggressive unrestrained tongue, criticising, judging, yelling, lashing out… How is it for your loved ones? Do your children or your spouse or your workmates want to be close to you or do they long to escape? Or maybe when you skunk-spray your anger on them, do they try make themselves invisible?
·        What happens to the spirit and wellbeing of those close to you when you physically abuse them? Does life with you become intolerable? Should it? I’ve come to a personal conclusion that subjecting ‘loved ones’ to physical violence is just as much a violation of the marriage vow as adultery. Your toxic-garlic nastiness crushes the spirit of those who are afflicted by you.
One thing about an angry-garlic spirit of bitterness, or of resentment or bullying, is that it imposes a suffocating control on those nearest and dearest to us. We greedily invade and impose ourselves into ‘their’ personal space and inflict violence on them by insisting that they conform to our wishes and our view of the world. Who could blame the gentler ones if they want out? Why should we be surprised if a loved one refuses to accept domination? Why wouldn’t the timid ones render themselves emotionally comatose?
There’s another thing about that garlic-laden spirit. It is difficult for the Lord to bless you because his Holy Spirit will never submit to your angry controlling spirit. You find yourself living in your own personal desolate wilderness.
What to do? If you recognise yourself in these word pictures are you stuck with it? As surely as Jesus the Christ is Lord, with all power and authority, it is not his will, ever, to leave you ‘stuck’. There are a number of simple things to do. Some will certainly be painful things to do, but they are also healing things to do…
·        First and foremost, admit the wretched truth to yourself. Put an end to the denial!
·        Next, admit the wretched truth to your Lord. Ask your Heavenly Father for the forgiveness promised in Christ Jesus. He must give it where sorrow for sin is genuine.
·        Also, take courage and acknowledge the truth to your loved ones and ask their forgiveness.
·        Take hold of the truth that he has bestowed on you the very character of Christ himself. His own Spirit is within you. Then ask him, through his Word and Spirit, to reveal to you the roots of this destructive behaviour. This he will do because his promise is to forgive and cleanse.
·        As you ‘see’ how you arrived at this place, withdraw any permissions you ever gave yourself to be angry or bitter or hurtful or harsh. Renounce those permissions and resolves. Instead say yes to the Word… Take to yourself the body and blood of Christ… Seek the community of Christ…
The journey will not be easy. However it is the journey to life that builds up and sustains others too. And go this journey in the sure knowledge that your Lord Jesus lived to absorb your excessive angers into himself. That’s part of what Calvary was about. Her absorbed it but did not surrender to it. In the Spirit he stayed strong and clean. In that same Spirit you can too. And should you fail, he is committed to grace and he freely forgives…
Two comments:
I could write just as easily about the over-indulgence in anxiety or alcohol, or gambling, greed, laziness, lust or jealousy. Any of these things bring a form of lying and violence and destructiveness into the close relationships in which we live.
Writing as a Pastor who struggles with these things myself, I sometimes reflect with regret about people who were on the receiving end of my mis-ministry. Apart from family, the closest relationships I have had and have are with ‘my people’. How has it been for them?
I bless the Father, for the Son, in the Spirit, every day for continuing grace.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

CP 280 The hide! Asking Christians to do better...

CP 280 The hide! Asking Christians to do better…
The other day I came across a headline on the ABC News website which really caught my eye. It was this: “Asking Christians to do better by domestic violence victims is not an attack on Christianity.” It was an opinion piece penned by Dr Steven Tracy, who is professor of theology and ethics at Phoenix Seminary, and founder of Mending the Soul Ministries. Dr Tracy was reflecting on the savage response directed at two journalists, Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, who had themselves written an essay entitled, “’Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God.” One of their assertions was that many women did not experience the Church as a sanctuary. Having read Dr Tracy’s article, I felt a strong nudge in my spirit to add my tuppence worth.
Now there are a few things I know about the Christian Church all over the world at this time of history. One is that the Christian Churches have been caught up, often for centuries, in the glory and honour that goes with being enmeshed in the power structures of our various cultures. Now that these privileged positions are being aggressively challenged on many fronts, as institutional power and status appears to be slipping away, there is both pain and humiliation. Not only that. There are also potent temptations to fear and panic, let alone victimhood and aggression. And because we have for so long identified ourselves as key institutions in secular society, we have a traumatic identity crisis on our hands.
A second observation is that far more often than we would like to admit, Christians, and the institutions they represent, have given their enemies, and their friends, plenty of justifiable reasons for public condemnation.
Third, the Apostle Paul was right when he nailed the truth that husbands have a particular vulnerability to harshness. He wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19)
There is a fourth obvious thing which needs to be faced. Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, are prone to be outraged when someone questions their biblical assumptions or pastoral understandings. We are so, so sensitive to criticism. Which brings me to my urge to write about that headline. When I read it and digested it, three circumstances rose up in my memory with some force.
1.      As a school kid, being acutely aware of situations where the Parish Priest insisted that Mrs X must return to her marital home regardless of how she was treated by her often drunken husband. The marriage vow had to be upheld regardless of the shame, humiliation and brutality. Part of the shame was that the honour of the Church was at stake! At the time, as a loyal church member, I agreed with the priest.

2.      During my training as a Pastor of the Lutheran Church one of my mentors made me aware of a couple who worshipped every Sunday, yet the husband beat his wife almost daily. There was no thought of intervention because the dominating thought was that, above all, the marriage must be preserved. The Pastor’s only comment, which has stayed lodged in my spirit, was this: “Imagine what it might have been like if he had not been a Christian.”

3.      I was made aware, as a younger Pastor, of a scenario where a dominating husband regularly hit his wife, and on occasion even took to cracking his whip near her ears if she was in any way non-compliant. In that particular case, neighbours who were aware had assured her of support if she wanted to get out. I blessed both her and the neighbours in their resolve and endeavour. She finally escaped 25 years later! Yes, that’s right, 25 years later. It took her that long to find the freedom to get out. Partly that was due to the hold he had over her, but it was also the fear that she would be doing the wrong thing and therefore bring shame on the family and the church.
Those are my three anecdotes. There are many more. Nowadays, in situations of domestic violence, I have little hesitation in telling an assaulted person that there is no requirement to stay. I know that it’s rarely easy to get out, but if necessary I will help. What I want to highlight now, though, is that the Churches have to acknowledge that we were absolutely part of the problem these women had. It’s so easy to be doctrinally right and morally wrong. We needed to lift our game and we still do. We have come a long way. We have a way to go. If we are to love as Jesus loved, then we will have his compassion, and we will be safe people and our churches will be safe places.