The Star of Christmas

Most mornings when I open the doors of the Church there are people sleeping in the porch. They are people who sleep rough and live rough. The porch offers some shelter from the wind and rain.

One morning as I greeted the two whose slumber I had disturbed we fell into conversation. They told me they were travelling. They’d come from down South. They told me they were following a star. They also told me they were on a ‘mission from God’.

I smiled. I thought I might find out back some camels wearing dark glasses. They weren’t smiling though, they were dead-certain serious.

There is a biblical admonition to not discount the insights of those labelled foolish. I wondered whether I was missing the reality of what these sojourners could see. Street dwellers’ reality, albeit affected from time to time by substances and illnesses, offers its own wisdom. Just as my reality, albeit affected from time to time by work and worry, offers its own wisdom too.

I asked the two travellers a little more about the star and the direction it was pointing in. They told me: ‘Stars don’t point’. They also told me, with an eye of suspicion, that it was their star and I needed to find my own. The conversation ended shortly afterwards.

But the point was taken. I, we, need to find our own star, our own guide, into the mystery of the night.

Jesus was the real star of Christmas... http://www.stmatthews.org.nz/nav.php?sid=322&id=798

Who is a lucky bear?

Poor Lucky. He didn't expect to be quite so busy this week. What he thought was a rather mild article [2 posts back] has generated all sorts of reaction - mostly good. The latest was a full page interview in the Sunday Star Times with a quirky journalist. Well he didn't seem quirky at the time, but some of his projections are a little strange! On the whole Lucky was please with the article and all the bits in the inverted commas he did actually say. Note though Lucky's mum told him afterwards that in Lucky's youth his mum attended Church more than 'intermittently'. Get your facts straight Lucky!

Anyway, here's the article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/sundaystartimes/4334783a6442.html


Being a Troublesome Priest

My article last week in the NZ Herald [copied in full on my posting below] has elicited some extraordinary responses and name calling. One fellow Anglican priest, Michael Hewat, wrote a feature article in the same newspaper giving his understanding of Christmas. I note that like my article his piece has little to do with the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. In other words he too is elaborating upon and interpreting the original story. I've re-printed the first part of his article and given the link if you wish to read it all.

Another critic was Garth George, a conservative regular columnist for the paper. Garth's black and white theology is well known and makes most Christians I know cringe. I have also reprinted part of his article and given the link.

Michael Hewat writes:

Christians have got used to the Christ being squeezed out of Christmas by secularism, consumerism and more recently inter-faith PC-ism, but now we are told by the Anglican Archdeacon of Auckland, no less, that Christians must accept that like it or not, Christmas is about more than Jesus.

Glynn Cardy avers approvingly that Jesus is now displaced as the reason for the season. He concludes his Herald Advent message by calling upon all people to celebrate the values of generosity, caring, togetherness and hospitality, values which reflect Christianity but also transcend it, embracing a borderless spirituality.

It's not that I have any quibble with the values he upholds, but I do not like the idea that Jesus is no longer the primary reason, or reason enough, for celebrating Christmas.

I like the idea even less when it is peddled by a senior cleric. My only consolation is that the same cleric argued in the same column last year that Jesus was conceived when Mary, his mother, was raped. He's not to be taken too seriously.

Jesus' place in the Christmas story, however, cannot be taken too seriously - and not only for reasons of faith. Reason itself requires it. As Mr Cardy himself admits, the supposedly universal values which he extols are seldom - if at all - found unadulterated in our society, even at Christmas time.

Generosity is marred by greed, guilt and debt. Hospitality falls prey to inter-family conflict and alcoholic excess. Feasting can be an occasion for calorie overload, and the goodwill of the Christmas season simply underscores for many their grief, isolation or purposelessness in life. Simply calling upon people of whatever faith, culture, or background to celebrate these values does absolutely nothing to empower them to do so.

On the contrary, it highlights their inability to do so, even once a year. It was precisely to address this problem that God sent his Son Jesus into the world.

Garth George writes:

I have written often at this time of the year of the reason for the season - the birth of Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God - whose arrival among mankind was the beginning of the greatest story ever told.

This year I have read on this page with amusement and a measure of perplexity the ramblings of that troublesome priest Glynn Cardy, and go along with Hamilton vicar Michael Hewat that Mr Cardy is not to be taken seriously.

The Cardys of this world invariably poke their heads above the parapet at this time of the year (and again at Easter) to reveal how their Christian beliefs have been derailed somewhere along the line.


The Season Is About More Than Jesus

Whether Christians like it or not Christmas is about more than Jesus. Jesus might have been ‘the reason for the season’ but now the season is about more than him.

There is a lot of buying. Buying presents for family and friends in preparation for the big parcel-ripping day. Buying calorie-laden food and drink for that day too. Buying gifts to thank colleagues, employees, employers, and clients at the year’s end. Buying too a little soul satisfaction by giving to a favourite charity.

Generosity is one of the great things about Christmas. The Santa myth, at its best, encourages people to think beyond their needs and themselves. It invites them to give, to share what they have, to think of others, and to try to help. When a neighbour bakes a batch of muffins and passes them over the gate with a piece of plastic holly attached, the neighbour is also passing over goodwill and helping build a street into a community. This is not to be underestimated. Any religious festival that brings people out of their self-orientated worlds into contact with their neighbours – those they know and those they don’t – is a good and sometimes life-giving thing.

At its worst the Santa myth is despoiled by consumerism, the messages that ‘love’ requires one to buy despite the cost. It’s too easy to just blame shops and advertisers for this. We all have to live with the tension of limiting our purchases to fit with our means and develop the skills to repel the false ‘gods’ of materialism.

There are however a number of people in New Zealand for whom Santa is oppressive. They don’t have the money to satiate Santa. They try to do what they can, often incurring debt. If it’s not bad enough struggling all year to try to meet normal household expenses, Santa comes along to inflict guilt, hardship and a retreat into mind-numbing substances like alcohol. Getting intoxicated at parties can sometimes be a way to escape the pressures of Christmas.

The biggest pressure for many though is not Santa but the happy family myth. There is a good reason some families only come together once or twice a year – it is hard work. There are often unresolved tensions, past grievances, and personal dislikes hidden behind the veneer of the ‘happy’ family. Everyone tries to be on their best behaviour yet sometimes, often with alcohol, the façade falters and that Christmas is forever etched in memory.

Yet for lots of others family is what is precious at Christmas time. It is the coming together of cousins and grandparents, of whanau from overseas, of new-borns and new partners. It is playing cricket in the backyard, eating till you’ll pop, and visiting the cemetery to put flowers on great-granny’s grave.

Food plays a major part in our Christmas communion. We give gifts of food. We dine with workmates as we part for the break. We offer hospitality to others, and are offered hospitality in turn. We feast with our families, and live off the leftovers for the next week. Food connects us with each other. We also try and imagine that at least on this day of the year everyone is tucking in, and feeling blessed.

The whole gift-giving industry has very tenuous Christian links. Yet the generosity shown in welcoming friends and strangers was central to Jesus. Santa is ready prey for those wanting to buy and have others spend. Yet caring for the needs of all especially the least was central to Jesus. Family togetherness is not a reality for many. Yet the health and wellbeing of our social systems has always been important to followers of Jesus. Feasting can be an occasion for calorie overload. Yet it also can be the means by which we open our tables and sometimes our hearts to others.

This Christmas whatever our faith, culture, or background lets try to celebrate the values of generosity, caring, togetherness, and hospitality. These things reflect Christianity but also transcend it, embracing a borderless spirituality.


Christmas Greetings

Dear Revd Glynn,

I hope you have a good Christmas.

Love Isabelle.


Dear Isabelle.

May your Christmas stocking overflow with what you need
May your Christmas guests overflow with satisfying joy
May your Christmas heart overflow with boundless love

Revd Glynn


A Pastoral Letter To The Rich

1. As any broker will tell you, there is a difference between price and value. That which costs a lot might not have a lot of value. And conversely what has value might not cost much. When price and value are considered synonymous we stray into the error of assuming that porsches are more important than primary teachers or wars than peace.

2. I’m a spiritual broker, and frankly wealth stuffs up the arteries of the spiritual heart. A moderate amount tastes good. The trick is to learn to curb our appetite before it acquires a prominence in our lives that leads to spiritual death. Today such appetite is extolled as the driver to success. The monks of old called it greed.

3. It is no blessing being poor. Those who think otherwise have never been there. Poverty by means of the cocktail of anxiety, violence, and depression can also destroy the spiritual heart. Escaping poverty involves more than having money, though money helps. Critical to escaping is having a friend who believes in you.

4. Don’t believe the hype that says you earned your wealth. Give credit where it’s due. What your parents, schooling, race, gender and culture gave and give you is very significant in predisposing you to financial success. Luck is not insignificant either. Hard work does not excuse a lack of humility.

5. Don’t believe the hype that equates wealth with wisdom. At the nub of wisdom is the ability to be happy irrespective of success, wealth, and relationships. Too many people make their happiness conditional upon their assets.

6. Ask most dying eighty-year-olds what they wished had had more of and they will say ‘time with loved ones’. That’s the hope of rich and poor alike. Money and success usually won’t buy you time; it will buy you more money and success. Poverty doesn’t buy you time either, it just brings misery. To get time you need to trade in the money, success and misery.

7. Time is a spiritual concept. The Greeks helpfully distinguished between “chronos’’ chronological time and “kairos’’ the right moment. We need to create right moments. Or, as is more often the case, be spiritually tuned so that we are receptive when the right moment comes along. Those who aren’t tuned will miss or stall.

8. You can trade in your money to buy chronos time. You can get a little beach place, bury your blackberry, and take long barefooted walks. You can keep this going for a quite a while catching up on family, novels, and sleep. But eventually the novelty will wear off and you’ll be hankering to get back to work. For meaning hinges on work. Next thing you know you are in the suit, in the car, on the cell phone, in a rush. You missed because you weren’t spiritually tuned.

9. Such tuning is not easy. There is pain involved. The Greeks had a word for this too: ‘kenosis’ self-emptying. In the search for meaning we need to re-order our lives, removing things we have become addicted to and trying to live without them. It isn’t a case of having a ‘balanced life’. Some things are just plain bad.

10. A heart thrives on and generates love. It pumps the oxygen of kindness, tolerance, and compassion through the body and the body politik. As the song says we are made for love. Yet, as the songs also say, we continually screw up, making choices that destroy friendships and the fidelity love needs. Work, instead of being the expression of love, becomes the expression of our need for success. We have got those big three – love, work, and success - out of sync. Dangerously so.

11. Most businesses talk about work and success. They don’t usually talk about love. They don’t talk about it because they haven’t figured out how it is related to work and success. They’ve been duped that love is a private thing, a home thing, something that happens after hours. They haven’t configured in this key motivational ingredient and spiritual necessity in human happiness.

12. “To whom much is given much will be demanded.’’ It’s an old phrase and not helpful when used to induce guilt. But it is a reminder to those of us who are considered rich to use what we have in knowledge, wealth, and wisdom to make the whole world a better place. We affect each other on this planet. We can’t afford to only look after those who are close to us, because the impact of those who aren’t can irrevocably destroy the future.

We’re in this together,


Mum, is God up in the sky?

My friend Celia Caughey has written a delightful little book for children and their adults introducing them to the wisdom of the great spiritual disciplines - particularly Christian and Buddhist. The book is called "There's Lots of Love" and will be published in the next month or so. Details of it will be on the St Matthew's webite www.stmatthews.org.nz Here's a little poem of Celia's that I enjoyed this morning:

Mum, is God up in the sky?
Do you think that he can fly?
Does he have a long white beard?
Is he someone to be feared?

The mystery some call God
May be found inside your head
Don’t go searching far and wide
Search your own heart instead.

Think of electricity
That makes the dark turn bright
So energy flows through you
Tune in and see the light.


Simply Good

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer" Albert Camus

+ There is a serenity to be found in some of the simplest of pleasures. I am sitting outside at 6.30 a.m., looking at the trees, with a cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. I hear the birds and some distant morning traffic. Closing my eyes I listen to my heart and it is peaceful.

+ Table-tennis in the garage is always a boisterous affair, deliberately so. Here young verse older can tease, laugh and compete. There are two lessons I want to teach. Firstly that fun is something you determine and then create. Secondly the real triumph of any game is the mutual enjoyment. The desire to win always needs to be kept in check, lest its destructive force is unleashed.

+ I try to laugh every day. I therefore need to put myself in the company of or communication with people who are as seriously twisted as I am. That takes discipline, but is manna to the soul. It helps too to know authors that are similarly twisted. Today it is Christopher Moore.

+ In the office it is the trickster who contributes more than she or he knows. The ability to release laughter into the common atmosphere is a divine gift, sowing the possibilities of hope and transformation. Churches in particular need lots of pranks – just to piss the pious off, and remind us what piety is.

+ With age comes the ability to enjoy rich, strong flavours. Insipid food and beverages lose their appeal. It’s great to see kids progress from cheddar, to Colby, to Tasty, to Stilton. I wish their theology would too. Usually they try the cheddar equivalent then give up on cheese.

+ With strong flavours too comes the realisation that a little is all that is needed. A dram of Glenfiddich can last a whole sunset. When you get stuffed on anything – food, drink, or religion – you miss the beauty on the horizon.

+ Enjoyment is not always assisted by money. Big toys can lead to big stress, and big maintenance. Bigness is also part of the illusion that the grand is always preferable to the simple. A car will give you the pleasure of arriving quickly. A bicycle will give you the pleasure of feeling the wind. Walking will give you the pleasure of noticing the flowers. All are pleasurable, but some cost more. Generally the more it costs the worse off your heart is.

+ Beauty is the artists’ gift to the city. These gifts stimulate our eyes and imagination, and goddishly invite our souls to be transported beyond the ordinary. Sculpture, in particular, offers us the vulnerability and intrigue of three dimensions, inviting touch and reflection. Sculpture is the foil to utilitarian design, suburban routine and soulless consumerism.

+ Working downtown it is important to misplace your diary and cell phone, walk out and get lost at least once a week. In the world of noise and demand we need a silence break, or we will break. That’s why it’s important for churches, art galleries, and large book stores to be open in the city – for the quiet. It is a prayer to walk from noise to silence. Our souls simply need it.

When We Disagree With Jesus

I was reading Luke 20:27-38 this morning. Luke and/or his Jesus make some claims in this text about heaven – namely that there is no marriage, plenty of angels, and is only for “the worthy.” The interesting thing of course is that many Christians, like me, don’t believe what Jesus/Luke believed.

I’m agnostic about life after death. I hope there is, but my faith isn’t shattered if there isn’t. I am though very sceptical about a heaven for “the worthy”. Determining who is “worthy” has always been a political game. At its best the Church has said that’s God’s call and God’s call alone. However, the Church being the institution it is can’t resist the temptation of judging others. It has damned anyone and everyone who doesn’t fit with the beliefs, morality, or authority structure of the ruling ecclesiastical elite. I personally think that if an afterlife exists everyone is going to be there. For some that will be heaven, for others it will be hell. As for angels… I really like angels, I just believe in literal metaphysical messengers.

If we don’t believe what Jesus and/or his editors believed does that make us non-Christians or heretics? When it comes to Jesus are some of his beliefs optional for us? Did he get it wrong about some things?

Let me sketch some things about the historical Jesus. Firstly, he was Jewish. He was a Jewish rabbi no less, of the Pharisaic tradition - albeit a liberal critic within Pharisaism. The idea of his followers departing from the Jewish faith would have been anathema to him. Jesus’ editors, and the writings of Paul, try to disguise this inconvenient truth.

In a similar vein I think it would be a mistake to imagine that Jesus saw no difference between Jews and Gentiles. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman where Jesus says to her, ‘Why should I take the Jewish children’s food and throw it to you Gentile dogs?’ indicates some of the common racial prejudice that existed. Whilst Jesus was inclusive for his time and culture, to assume he was without prejudice is a statement of conjecture.

Thirdly there is his maleness. Although he was critical of the patriarchal family and the denigration of those who transgressed the purity laws, to say he was a believer in the equality of men and women is a fanciful reading into the text. Again, like with his relationship to Gentiles, in his time and place he crossed cultural and gender boundaries, and thus modelled for us an imperative to do likewise. But he was not your non-sexist, mutuality-committed, pro-equality male that we fathers all want our daughters to marry.

Then there is his theology. Jesus had a personal, male god whom he called daddy. Further this anthropomorphic deity lived above the clouds, in the top tier of the universe, called heaven. The second tier of the universe was the earth, and the third hell. We might like to imagine that he thought of these metaphorically, but I doubt it. Jesus also believed that he was going to ‘come again’ during the lifetime of the disciples. Of course as a good Jew he wouldn’t have had any truck with the Trinity, or the great schemes of sanctification that involved his literal blood making God accept and love people.

Some of Jesus’ theology we might resonate with and some we might be repelled by. A personal daddy god doesn’t do much for me. A three-tier universe doesn’t literally exist. Jesus didn’t come again during his disciples’ lifetime. However the complicated formulas of the Trinity and sanctification devised in the first four centuries of the Church don’t do a lot for me either.

Can I then still call myself a Christian?

I find the description of Jesus by the writer of Hebrews [12:2] as the ‘author’ or ‘pioneer’ of our faith helpful. The Jesus of history was a trailblazer, an exemplar, and a model for us. However as with all authors and pioneers of radical social change thought we need to be selective about what we wish to emulate. He wasn’t perfect. The love he preached and lived in his context might have been, but in our context revision is needed.

This is where the writer of the 4th Gospel is helpful in telling us that the Spirit of Jesus will lead us into all truth. ‘Spirit of’ as distinct from ‘the man’. Truth was not fixed in 1st century Palestine. It was not fixed in a male Jewish rabbi. It is something that continues to unfold as we engage with the Spirit of God in our context in the light of what he taught.


Choose Which Road To Travel

The Bible has long been used as a barrier to prevent gay and lesbian people feeling beloved of God and welcome in the Church. Using verses in particular from the books of Leviticus and Romans Church authorities have condemned homosexuality.

However scholars in the 1970s and 1980s looked again at the texts. They found that none of the passages addressed the permissibility of consensual committed love in a same-sex relationship. Rather most of the passages were concerned about the violation of hospitality, rape, and pederasty. The texts were written within a patriarchal culture obsessed with purity. It tried to regulate for example what went into and out of the body, the latter including menstrual fluid and semen. Wasting semen was a crime whereas sleeping with multiple wives, concubines, and prostitutes was not.

These scholars also noted that Jesus made no reported comment on homosexuality. He was though critical of the patriarchal family, and what that institution did to those it rejected. He also talked about the importance of love and how we treat one another.

Conservative scholars have tried to counter these arguments. In short they argue that because the Bible is silent on committed same-sex relationships does not mean it permits them. The Bible endorses a heterosexual perspective, albeit within an ancient patriarchal context that most today would not want to wholly replicate. They think the Church needs to be very careful in how far it deviates from the literal words of various biblical texts.

In the end, I believe, it comes down to us making a choice. We can choose to follow a God who wants us to conform to one particular way of being human, as defined by heterosexual norms. This God stands opposed to the direction of Western democracies as they seek to acknowledge the human rights of all their citizens. There are a number of biblical passages and preachers that will endorse this choice. Or we can choose to follow a God who in the name of love breaks through the barriers of prejudice and leads us on the road to justice. There are a number of biblical passages and preachers that will endorse this choice too.

Making a choice regarding biblical texts and moral direction is nothing new. The 16th century reformer, John Calvin, a man not known for his liberal tendencies, was faced with a problem. The Bible’s unequivocal denunciation of usury, i.e. earning interest on money, was preventing the economic development of Europe. Whereas originally these texts were framed to stop the poor falling into debt-slavery, they were in the 16th century preventing people from borrowing to finance enterprise. Calvin reasoned that although these verses made sense when they were written, times and understandings had changed, and the texts needed to be ignored. Further he regarded the moral principle of equity as taking precedence over these biblical texts.
[i] In other words Calvin, the great pioneer of Protestantism, and champion for many modern-day conservatives, blatantly disregarded the clear teaching of Holy Scripture and gave preference to the principle of equity.

We need to have the courage of Calvin today to set aside biblical prohibitions that stand in the way of people flourishing. This was the same courage that Jesus showed in setting aside biblical texts regarding the Sabbath, women, lepers, tax-collectors, dining, and adultery.

We need to choose which road to travel. There is a narrow conservative road that requires conformity to one understanding of Scripture and faith. You won’t have to think too much – it will do it for you. This road denies that any other road is Christian.

Then there is a broad highway littered with churches and bishops that is designed to keep everyone happy. In the name of unity dissension must be avoided. It is risk-averse. It tries to be tolerant. Those who don’t fit with the majority however are discounted.

Then there is the difficult road to justice that St Matthew’s is travelling. On this road unity does not precede justice, but follows it. On this road the Bible does not precede truth, but serves it. On this road God’s will is not frozen in the 1st century but is unfolding among us. This is the road that I and many of my predecessors have chosen. And we still have a long way to go.

[i] I have drawn upon an article by Alan Billings http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=39331


Lunch with Bishop Gene

Last Saturday I dined with Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and his partner Mark. They are in New Zealand on holiday. It’s not often one is privileged to have lunch with a famous person.

Gene has a big infectious smile and is very gracious when talking about those in the Anglican Communion who make life difficult for him. He is very committed to the Church – which I suppose is obvious when you remember that he was ordained wearing a bullet-proof vest!

He told us about the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” in which he features. See
http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org I cried when I watched the trailer. The movie tells the Bible story in a way that affirms God’s love and embrace of gay people and their relationships.

I sat next to Gene’s partner Mark. The American House of Bishops has a strong spouse’s group who have warmly welcomed Mark into their midst.

I gave Gene a gift on behalf of St Matthew’s. It’s a little greenstone Manaia. The Manaia is traditionally depicted with the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish – representing sky, earth and sea and the balance between them. It is said to protect the wearer from evil. It’s also controversial. It seemed the right thing to give to Gene.


Mustard Seed Church

Instead of the club understanding of Church Jesus offered the parable of the mustard seed: “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in their garden. And it grew and grew and became a great tree with large branches so that the birds made nests in it.”

The power of this parable relies upon us knowing some basic botany. The mustard plant is an annual that grew wild in Palestine. Pliny, that great Roman observer, writes: “It grows entirely wild … when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it.”
[i] It was, in other words, a weed. It was the oxalis of the ancient world.

In the parable the person plants the mustard weed in their garden. Apart from being a stupid thing to do [think oxalis], it violated the law of diverse kinds in Leviticus 19:19. This law was designed to maintain order and separation, keeping plants in their proper place and not mixing them. Normally mustard was sown in small patches on the edge of a field. It was prohibited to plant it in a garden because it would result in mingling. By planting it in the garden, the planter makes the garden “unclean”. The mustard seed grew, and grew, and grew … as weeds do.

Jesus was inviting his hearers to imagine God’s reign to be very different from their religious club. The Jewish purity regulations were a result of needing club boundaries. All clubs need boundaries in order to create safe cultures, delineating insiders from outsiders. Jesus however was saying that God violates boundaries, violates biblical principles, disregards common botanical sense, and makes a mess of good order.

Jesus could have likened God’s reign to a cedar of Lebanon that grew tall and strong with many branches, capable of holding nests for many birds.
[ii] In the great tree of the religious club all birds, read people, could find a home.

Mustard seeds don’t grow into great trees with branches. They grow into shrubs, with a maximum height of 1.2 metres. It takes a lot of digital re-imaging, or G.E., to make mustard into a large tree. Jesus was either botanically challenged or was deliberately mixing it up. The lowly, virulent, and problematic mustard can hardly be mistaken for the lofty, virtuous, and powerful cedar. Indeed his audience was probably smiling at the thought. What was Jesus trying to do in stirring his metaphors?

Jesus often did the reversal thing, trying to turn people’s thinking upside down. Consider, for example, the man beaten on the road to Jericho. The hero of the story is the unclean and despised Samaritan. The reign of God is meant to be mighty, exalted and significant, like a cedar. The mustard seed though is proverbially small, despised, and insignificant. Yet in the topsy-turvy, upside-down mind of Jesus, God is seen clearest of all in the small, despised, and insignificant.

There is disorder contained in the mustard metaphor. The reign of God is not like the Auckland Botanical Gardens were everything is carefully laid out, well tended and watered, named and admired. The reign of God is not orderly, where people all have allocated places and behave themselves. Rather the reign of God is like oxalis. It crops up all over the place, despite our best efforts to keep it out. Just when you had that patch of garden looking great, up she pops with her little yellow flowers.

It didn’t take long for the early Church to try to domesticate the breadth and wildness of God’s reign and call itself the Kingdom of God. Constantine made an empire out of it. All theistic religions have a tendency to want to own God and declare their institutions are God’s creation. Jesus in his day was trying to help his Pharisaic colleagues to broaden their thinking, see the divine in the weeds as well as the cedars, in the impure as well as the pure, and above all not to imagine that they could domesticate God.

[i] Pliny, Natural History, 29.54.170 [LCL, 529].
[ii] Ezekiel 17, 34, and Psalm 104.


The Morning Club

Sometimes a children’s story contains a great truth:

“Grasshopper was walking along the road. He saw a sign on the side of a tree. The sign said MORNING IS BEST. Soon Grasshopper saw another sign. It said THREE CHEERS FOR MORNING. Grasshopper saw a group of beetles. They were singing and dancing. They were carrying more signs.

“Good morning,” said Grasshopper.

“Yes,” said one of the beetles. “It is a good morning. Every morning is a good morning!” The beetle carried a sign. It said MAKE MINE MORNING.

“This is a meeting of the ‘We Love Morning Club’,” said the beetle. “Every day we get together to celebrate another bright, fresh morning. Grasshopper do you love morning?”

“Oh yes,” said Grasshopper.

“Hooray!” shouted all the beetles. “Grasshopper loves morning!”

“I knew it,” said the beetle. “I could tell by your kind face. You are a morning lover.” The beetles made Grasshopper a wreath of flowers. They gave him a sign that said MORNING IS TOPS.

“Now,” they said, “Grasshopper is in our club.”

“When does the clover sparkle with dew?” asked a beetle.

“In the morning!” cried all the other beetles.

“When is the sunshine yellow and new?” asked the beetle.

“In the morning!” cried all the other beetles. They turned somersaults and stood on their heads. They danced and sang.

“M-O-R-N-I-N-G spells morning!”

“I love afternoon too,” said Grasshopper.

The beetles stopped singing and dancing. “What did you say?” they asked.

“I said that I loved afternoon,” said Grasshopper.

All the beetles were quiet.

“And night is very nice,” said Grasshopper.

“Stupid,” said a beetle. He grabbed the wreath of flowers.

“Idiot,” said another beetle. He snatched the sign from Grasshopper.

“Anyone who loves afternoon and night can never ever be in our club!” said a third beetle.

“UP WITH MORNING!” shouted all the beetles. They waved their signs and marched away.

Grasshopper was alone. He saw the yellow sunshine. He saw the dew sparkling on the clover. And he went on down the road.”

Every community places boundaries around itself. It creates a sense of identity and belonging. It delineates between insiders and outsiders. Even the most inclusive community in the world has boundaries. The art of inclusion though is to recognize that your community does not have a monopoly on truth, love, God, beauty, and knowledge, and neither does any other community; and to keep the boundaries you have as porous as possible so that the challenge and love of God may freely flow through.

The beetle club had created meaning and borders around their enjoyment of the morning. Their allegiance to their club identity blinded them to the truth that was beyond their borders.

[i] A. Lobel, Grasshopper On The Road, London : Windmill, 1979, p.8ff.

Question from Isabelle: Where are devils?

Dear Father Glynn,

Where are devils?

Love Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

I think devils are found in the imagination. Sometimes they are in people’s dreams. Often they pop up in story books – story books are of course imagination put into words and written on paper.

I don’t believe devils actually exist. No one has ever seen a devil. We know from history that the idea of devils has developed in stories. In some periods of history people thought they were real, and lots were afraid of them.

I don’t even believe they are in hell. I think the whole idea of an actual place called hell is highly suspect. It was thought up in the days when people believed in God living in heaven above us and the devil living in hell beneath us. Nowadays we know that we live on a round planet. Beneath us is earth and rock. Above us is sky, space, stars and other galaxies.

God is the name we give to the powerful love often seen between people who seek the best for each other. It's a love that can even heal us. People who try to destroy that love live a ‘hellish’ life. Hell is a state of mind and existence that rejects love and delights in hatred.

Kind regards,


It’s a tough time to be a conservative.

It’s a tough time to be a conservative. Despite all that moralistic fervour, those righteous admonitions, all the pointing of the fingers at secular humanism and bankrupt liberalism, the numbers don’t look good. New Zealand is not about to become a Bible-believing nation any time soon. The crowds who swim to the latest Pentecostal preacher and get hooked also seem to tire after awhile and break free. Attendance in mainline denominations is at best static, with a few exceptions here and there. Certainly there is no second coming for biblical morality and church going conviction.

In Anglicanism the great conservative thrust over the last decade has been to claim they are the majority, they are the true stewards of biblical correctness, and any unrepentant loving gay or lesbian who has the audacity to show up in Church needs to be exorcised. Conservatives chose homosexual relationships as their line in the sand. ‘Bashing gays,’ they reasoned, ‘is sure to win us the day.’

And for a while it did look like they were winning. The Archbishop of Canterbury got confused between management and leadership, and sank into the mire of the former. The Primates took to themselves power to punish dissent, though it was never theirs to take. The Anglican Consultative Council, while showing more backbone than most, seemed to succumb to Episcopal bullying.

Even in little old NZ the conservative stench breezed in. Vicars threatened to resign because of what was happening overseas. Some bishops developed supple spines keeping those vicars in ‘the family’. Lots of consultation was called for. Not mind you with disaffected gay and lesbian Christians who were once again being clouted by bigotry, but with those poor hurt conservatives who always want religion to make them feel good. Bishops paused before ordaining anyone who was gay.

The reassuring thing however about conservatism is that given time, and enough rope, it will hang itself. Slowly and surely the Anglican world is waking up to the ugly reality of the bigotry it has been trying to accommodate.

Consider the tone of recent editions of Church Times that barometer of English purple opinion. No longer are the Americans being vilified as imperialistic innovators who take no notice of anyone else. Now, after Archbishop Rowan has finally visited them, they are being spoken of as conciliatory and reasonable.

The ludicrous situation of three African Provinces competing with each in a race to ordain the few renegade American bishops is being exposed for the sham it is. How a bishop in Pittsburgh is meant to be accountable to a Primate in Nigeria is anybody’s guess – though ‘accountable’ is not what is in mind. Power and money is.

The murderous Bishop of Harare has used the climate of anti-homosexuality to further his own ends. Despots count on the absence of backbone, and their ability to spread fear and mistrust. Hopefully the leadership and lawyers of his Province will deal to him as best they can.

Wycliffe Hall, the evangelical training college in Oxford, is also reeling from its own Machiavelli. Their principal has successfully caused the resignation of over half his staff, public condemnation from former principals, dismay from moderate evangelicals in general, and the substantial inflation of his salary package. Amongst his incredible actions is the appointment of a Vice-Principal who does not believe women should teach men! The Council to whom he is accountable are at best displaying a predictable lack of intestinal fortitude.

Maybe however the biggest atmospheric change afflicting conservatism is the slow awakening of that patient tolerant beast called Middle Anglicanism. For at the end of the day the conservatives have chosen to vilify someone who is everyone’s neighbour. And they are vilifying him or her because that neighbour has chosen to commit him or herself to another in love. ‘Neighbours’ and ‘love’ are two words at the heart of Christian faith. There is something deeply counter-cultural to Christianity in advocating the theological and political crucifixion of a neighbour who has dared to love another.

As I say, it is a tough time to be a conservative.


An Offensive God

Drag artiste Queenie Aotearoa dances a tribute
at the death of fellow
artiste Shane in St Matthew's this week.

Today we have become timid in our imaging of God. We think it is radical and risqué to even call God ‘Her’. Our images of God as loving and inclusive do not do justice to the God Jesus painted who is offensive to the keepers of the status quo, religious or secular. Indeed the concepts of God as transforming love or divine energy unless earthed in risky imagery and stories are a diluted insipid version of the offensive God Jesus was shoving into the faces
of his opponents.

We also need to rethink our vision of inclusive love - not that tolerance, justice, and understanding between peoples, races, religions, genders and orientations is an unworthy goal. Yet the vision often has an underlying premise of us the powerful letting the powerless in, or us the powerless wanting the powerful to invite us in. To use the image of an all-inclusive dining table with us all sitting around together, we need to ask where this table is located, and who has set the menu.

Or put another way, where and with whom is this offensive God? Remember the parable of the lost sheep, and the one after it with God as a sweeping woman. This God leaves the 99 well-feed and respectable church and business leaders, and goes AWOL. This God of Jesus doesn’t do normal, or expected, or civilised.

This God could be found on the banks of the Brisbane River three weeks ago when a group of gay friends grieving a young man’s death threw high heels into the water. God threw one of Hers in too.

This God was blowing raspberries at the back of a meeting of the ruling council of the Northern Irish Free Presbyterian Church when they ousted this week their founder Ian Paisley for his tolerance of Gay Pride marches. She also danced for joy that such a dogged hardliner as Paisley could change, albeit a little.

Will we turn and face this offensive God overcoming the objections of grumblers, and the grumbling inside ourselves?


Hell Just Froze Over!

Sometimes a piece of news really stuns you. The following article by Tony Grew [pinknews.co.uk] on Sept 10th had that effect on me. I have reproduced the first part of it below. It is also a wonderfully hopeful article. If such a persistent and vicious hardliner as Ian Paisley can show tolerance then anything might be possible.

Ian Paisley, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, is to step down from the leadership of a church he founded 56 years ago.The veteran politician has come under pressure from members of the Free Presbyterian Church over gay rights issues. The fundamentalist Christian sect has been outraged that Mr Paisley and other members of his Democratic Unionist Party have ignored their objections to government financial support for Pride marches. Mr Paisley, 81, became the head of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration in May, after decades of opposition to power-sharing with the province’s minority Catholic population. Before the administration had taken office a Free Presbyterian preacher demanded that a new government minister block a grant to Pride, calling it a "celebration of sodomy."


Families, Unity, and Growing Up

One of the pervasive metaphors in the Anglican Church is that of a diocesan family with a daddy in charge. Occasionally these days there is a mummy in charge, but not at present in this country.

I have been at a national Anglican three-day conference on hermeneutics. I am suspicious that the family metaphor is driving the agenda. There seems to be a desire that we discover and name [via study of the Bible] our familial connections, and find some central points of agreement while acknowledging our many peripheral points of disagreement. Unity then lives on despite the diversity. It is a grand modernist scheme that has prevailed in Anglicanism for many decades.

As one born within the post-modern meta-narrative my problem with this scheme is that the children have grown up. Their relationship to daddy and each other has changed. They don’t need the daddy like they did before. They don’t heed the daddy like they did before. Daddy is welcome to his views, but they don’t have to coincide with theirs. Daddy hasn’t the power he used to. Some children regress into modernism, and some daddies encourage it. But more and more we are all growing up, accepting that we live in a plural world and joining together periodically for various issues.

Likewise the adult children now have an adult relationship with their siblings. Sometimes they get on well, finding commonalities and supporting each other. Sometimes they don’t, travelling different paths and finding very little in common. The latter experience is not a sign of failure or of dysfunction. Indeed it can be a sign of maturity.

I have mostly grown beyond the desire to try and convert evangelical Anglicans to my views on life, faith, and homosexuality. I recognize they have chosen a different path. I will publicly state my views and expect them to state theirs. If a daddy bishop aligns with an opposite viewpoint to me then of course I will publicly disagree. But I won’t expect to mute the bishop, nor do I expect him to try to mute me.

The phrase “the Anglican view” is so broad on many issues as to be almost meaningless. It makes as about as much sense as saying “a Christian view” or a “New Zealand view”. In the postmodern world we know that all views are conditionally shaped and relative, even if we believe in absolute truths and eschatological justification.

I’ve heard what I’m articulating described as ‘each sitting in our small corners’. Well in my schema there are no corners. We are part of an interconnected global network with free and fast information. We are making choices all the time. We are joining hands with friends and yesterday’s enemies on today’s issue, and finding a different set of hands to bond with on tomorrow’s. We are trying to follow the impulses of the living Christ in building a world of justice, joy, and peace.

Family reunions are okay, especially when family trusts and the like have to be dealt with. It’s good to catch up with each other. But we need to be cautious about trying to create or present ourselves as a unified family when it is nobody’s reality.

So let’s get on with the justice, joy, and peace, wherever we are.


Does God Change?

Dear Rev Cardy,

I'm sure you’re aware that God does not change but stays the same- yesterday, today and forever. God does not change, we change.

Tom [UK]

Dear Tom,

One thought you might like to consider: when two people are in love, and grow in love, the love will inevitably change them. You don’t stay the same when you are loved. If God and I are ‘lovers’ is it not possible that not only am I changed by the relationship but also God?



Harry Potter and Satanism

The following is an exchange with a person concerned about Harry Potter and Satanism. She inserts a lengthy dated quote from a pastor opposed to Harry Potter.

In the light of your recent sermon posted on the website about your lack of belief in Satan, I wonder what you make of this? Thanks, Rose.


With the latest mania of Harry Potter, we all need to be warned about the last days of witchcraft mention in 1 Tim 4:1. Christian parents or otherwise that let their children read and watch this garbage cannot blame them if they end up in the occult. This is the most evil thing I have laid my eyes on in 10 years... And no one seems to understand its threat. The Harry Potter books are THE NUMBER ONE selling children’s books in the nation today. Harry Potter is the creation of a former UK English teacher who promotes witchcraft and Satanism. Harry is a 13 year old wizard. Her creation openly blasphemes Jesus and God and promotes sorcery, seeking revenge upon anyone who upsets them by giving you examples of spells, rituals, and demonic powers. Let me give you a few quotes from some of the influenced readers themselves: "The Harry Potter books are cool, 'cause they teach you all about magic and how you can use it to control people and get revenge on your enemies," said Hartland, WI, 10 year old Craig Nowell, a recent convert to the New Satanic Order Of The Black Circle. "I want to learn the Cruciatus Curse, to make my muggle science teacher suffer for giving me a D." [A 'muggle' is an unbeliever of magic.] Or how about the REALLY young and innocent impressionable mind of a 6 year old when asked about her favourite character: "Hermione is my favourite, because she's smart and has a kitty," said 6 year old Jessica Lehman of Easley, SC. "Jesus died because He was weak and stupid." DOES THIS GET YOUR ATTENTION!! If not, how about a quote from a High Priest of Satanism: "Harry is an absolute godsend to our cause," said High Priest Egan of the First Church of Satan in Salem, MA. [Since 1995, open applicants to Satan worship has increased from around 100,000 to now...14 MILLION children and young adults!] Still not convinced? I will leave you with something to let you make up your own mind. A quote from the author herself, J. K.Rowling, describing the objections of Christian reviewers to her writings: "I think it's absolute rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan," Rowling told a London Times reporter in a July 17 interview. "People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes, ...while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory."

Hi Rose,

I read the material above as you requested. Frankly I am very suspicious of the source. The author does not give specific references for his J.K. Rowling quote. Searching the net there is only one July 17th Times article on Harry Potter and it’s from 2005 and the quote above is not in it.

My family and I have read all the Harry Potter books and thoroughly enjoyed them. They promote values of loyalty, friendship, telling the truth, and breaking the rules for a greater good. I think these are biblical values. The books are set in a fantasy world of wizards and spells. There is no mention of Satan, the Devil, Jesus or God. Fantasy is a well-known genre that has wide popularity today. No doubt some will try to understand the books in a literal manner and indulge in potentially harmful practices like Satanism. To ban Harry Potter [or some similar draconian option] makes as much sense as banning the Bible because it promotes sexism, slavery, and homophobia.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - why is God there?

Dear Father Glynn,

Why is God there?

Love Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

I think we’ve talked earlier about the location of God – the ‘where’ question. We talked about God not just being ‘there’ but also ‘here’, and ‘in here’ and ‘over there’ and ‘far far away’. Again if we think of God like love there is no limit to where love might go or be.

But I think your question this time hinges on the word ‘why’. ‘Why does God exist?’ or, in my language, ‘Why does Love exist?’ There are a range of possible answers. Maybe it’s because we need God/Love. Maybe it’s because God/Love needs us. Maybe it’s because God/Love has always been and the real question is why we exist. Maybe it’s because loving and living and hoping and dreaming are knitted together and can’t be unraveled. Just like God and us.

Here’s hoping,


Life in the City - Known By Name

I am slowly getting to know my downtown neighbourhood and the patterns of those who live and work here.

As I habitually look at people’s faces, rather than the pavement or shop windows, I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to recognise my fellow inhabitants. There is that young Asian woman with the bright orange handbag. There’s the old guy who has probably spent the night in a bus shelter. There’s the bank employee who goes to the same coffee shop I usually frequent.

Auckland has some 1.5 million people. Downtown, as you might expect, is the most densely populated part of the city. Some 5,000 people live within 300 metres of the church. What I didn’t expect was to begin to recognise people, like you would at a village store.

There is some impressive community-builders downtown. Like the McGregor Brothers café in Wellesley Street. James and Tom offer a good product, and serve it with grace and finesse. Yet other cafés and restaurants do the same. The difference is they make the effort to learn their customers' names. When you consider that from 7 a.m. on there is a queue of coffee junkies lining up for a pre-work fix, learning names is no small feat.

Similarly there is the Tiki Boy café on Ponsonby Road. As I walk in the door there is always a holler: “Hiya Father Glynn”. Preston tells me that if he has served a person three coffees and doesn’t know their name he is failing in his job. Jene and Preston have also created their own café ethos. It’s a fun, joking, clowning atmosphere. While the McGregors offer fine china, the Tiki Boys offer stunts on bikes.

What I’ve noticed is that I will walk past, and drive past, other cafés that actually have better coffee and food in order to go somewhere where I’m known by name. And its not just where I am known but its where others names are announced too, and relationship encouraged. Its what in times past a local village pub might have offered. Or a church.


The Basis of New Zealand Anglican

When the Archbishop of Uganda recently said that the basis of his Church was the authority of scripture, the seeds of the martyrs, and the historic episcopate I was struck by how foreign it all sounded. I think the Church in New Zealand has been deeply influenced by an egalitarianism that is wary of the consolidation of hierarchical power. One of the gifts, for example, I think the evangelical movement has given many of us is this sense of egalitarian, priesthood of all believers, unmediated personal relationship with God. Secondly, this Church has been deeply influenced by the spirituality of the tangata whenua [i.e. Maori], the earth on which we stand, and the struggles for justice around land and culture. The third basis I would say is innovation. It’s the make-do, no.8 fencing wire, create-our-own-solutions approach. We bring together our tradition, our scripture and hermeneutics, our peoples and our compassion and we make solutions. Sometimes of course we get it wrong – but more often than not I think we have got it right.


A short history of Satan - Part 1

Satan hasn’t always been about. He seems to have popped up around the 6th century BCE. In the Book of Numbers and Job Satan appears, not as an evil seducer, but as one of God’s obedient servants – an angel who has an adversarial role. Note the Satan was a role.

As a literary device Satan’s presence in a narrative could help account for unexpected obstacles or reversals of fortune. Take the story of Balaam – a man who had decided to go where God had ordered him not. Balaam saddled his ass and set off, but in Numbers 22:22 “God’s anger was kindled... and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his Satan” – i.e. as his adversary or obstructer. In the Book of Job Satan likewise has this adversarial role – with God authorizing Satan’s testing of Job.

However, around the same time as Job was written [550 BCE], other Biblical writers began to use the concept of Satan to explain division in Israel. 1st Chronicles suggests that a supernatural foe had managed to infiltrate the House of David and lead the King into sin.
[i] Zechariah depicted the Satan inciting factions among the people. These writers paint the Satan as sinister and the role begins to change: from Satan as God’s agent to Satan as God’s opponent.

Four centuries later, 168 BCE, internal conflicts within Israel are even more acute. The problem was how to accommodate the cultural and religious traditions of foreigners who now lived in Israel. Some promoted tolerance and integration, others the opposite. Following the Maccabean Revolt, when foreigners were expelled, the internal divisions remained extreme. Separatist groups emerged who used the concept of Satan to demonise their Jewish opponents. Satan was not just the enemy without [foreigners] but also the enemy within [fellow Jews]. These separatist groups also constructed stories of Satan’s origin – one of the more common ones being that he was a princely angel who through lust or arrogance fell from grace.

Of course other Jewish writers tried to stem the tide of racist and religious xenophobia. Daniel, for example, while concerned about ethnic identity never uses Satan language to demonise his opponents.

[i] I Chronicles 21:1.


In answer to Tim - Devil contd

Tim has written a comment following the post regarding Isabelle's question about the Devil. This is my response:

Dear Tim,

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start a conversation when two people are approaching the same subject so differently. It is always tempting to say “I’m right and you’re wrong”, but that doesn’t assist mutual understanding.

I’m reminded of a story about a young man coming to a well known spiritual teacher. This young man knew his Bible. He not only could quote it, he followed all its commandments. Yet the young man was still not happy. The teacher listened patiently and then, guessing that the young man had considerable wealth, told him to cash it all up and give the money to the poor. The teacher’s advice wasn’t in the young man’s Bible! Yet it was where the young man would find happiness if only he could thwart his love of money.

Tim, you state that the Bible is a book from God. I would say that it is a book that points us to God. For God’s wisdom takes different forms and shapes depending on circumstances and culture - just as it did with the rich young man. It is not the words of the Bible that we are to worship, follow, and obey. It is God, whom the Bible points to that we are to worship, follow, and obey.

You go on to infer that my dismissal of a literal devil is proof that my understanding comes from the devil. I think you need to be careful in labelling the arguments of your critics as from the devil. It is unfortunately a way, well-attested to in history, of plugging your ears to truth other than your own.

There are a number of things in the Bible that are simply not true. The Bible taken literally says, for example, that woman was made from a man’s rib, and that women need to keep silent in church. The Bible contains dietary prohibitions regarding pork, shellfish, and the like. The Bible has God incinerating people from the skies, usually the author’s opponents. Every Christian will work out what parts of the Bible they will adhere to and what they will overlook or dismiss; what bits they will ascribe to the culture and thought forms of the authors and editors and what bits are timelessly relevant. To literally adhere to every word of the Bible would lock you into the 2nd century world of when the last epistle was written, and therefore deny the existent and power of God in the last 18 centuries.

Tim, I would also caution you about assuming whose names are in the ‘Book of Life’. You assume that Isabelle’s isn’t. Whatever you believe about judgement, the Christian tradition is very clear about who is the judge – and it’s not you, or me.

If you wish to read further about the devil can I commend to you Elaine Pagel’s book The Origin of Satan. It traces the history of the Satan/devil idea through antiquity, the biblical books, and into church history. It is a sobering read. Demonizing one’s opponents, other Christians, and Jews, was a precursor to inflicting pain and death. It is a dangerous path and does not lead to life.



Questions from Isabelle - Devil stuff

Dear Revd Glynn,

What are devils? And what do devils do? What do devils eat? Do devils babies come from eggs or do they not?

Your Friend

From Mum:
P.S. Isabelle had a dress-up day at school today, and one of her friends came as a devil. Hence the questions.

Dear Isabelle,

There has always been goodness in the world, and there’s always been evil. Usually when we think about evil we think about a really bad person who might have, for example, killed or hurt a lot of people. But sometimes evil is bigger than just one person or group of people. We call that an evil system. About 65 years ago the Jewish people in Europe were nearly all killed – some 6 million people died. It happened in Germany. While there were a few evil people who thought up this horrific idea, lots of ordinary Germans were involved in it coming about. The evil was bigger than the people involved.

Back in the time the Bible was written some people talked about this idea of an evil system by making an imaginary creature to symbolize it. So like Ronald McDonald symbolizes McDonald hamburgers, the devil symbolizes evil. And like Ronald is just an actor dressing up [there is no real person called Ronald McDonald], so there is no real person or being called the devil.

However we humans always like dressing up and having fun. And dressing up as the bad guy is particularly fun. Our imagination has dressed devils in red, with horns on top, a tail behind, and a pitchfork in hand. At parties we go around and mischievously prod people with the pitchfork! Devils at parties eat what everyone else eats – though they usually have pepperoni and barbeque sauce on their pizza! I haven’t heard about them having babies – they’d probably have to grow up first.

Evil of course is deadly serious, and devils you meet at parties can be seriously funny. There comes a problem when the two are mixed together. If a person who has done evil acts starts being called a devil then people can start treating him or her as less than human. It is very dangerous to our soul, and to the safety of all, to start treating anybody as less than human.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - Why is God called God?

Dear Revd Glynn,

Why is God called God, if God is love?

From Isabelle.

With a mum postscript:

P.S. Isabelle heard me on the computer, and this was a bit muddled with sleepiness. I think the translation is "Why is God not called love, instead of God, if God means love?" Confused? I am!

Dear Isabelle,

I love your questions!

Words called nouns name an object that we can see – like t-r-e-e names that thing with leaves and branches outside my window. The word G-o-d though names something we can’t see. It names a spiritual power that flows through people’s lives. That power is within, beyond, and between us. It is something we experience, like feelings, but can’t be proved scientifically.

Christians believe that the main feeling and evidence of that spiritual power is love. Sometimes we might meet a person who is so full of goodness that it seems that while she or he is with us that spiritual power called God is with us. This was the experience of people who knew Jesus. He was stuffed full of God.

Some people want to call that spiritual power a ‘Him’ or a ‘Lord’. They make G-o-d into a noun. I prefer to think of G-o-d as a verb: a flowing, moving, loving force. Sort of like the power that lights up the bulb rather than the light bulb itself.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - what does God do?

Dear Revd Glynn,

What does God do?

From Isabelle

Dear Isabelle,

As you probably guessed by now I would put the word ‘love’ into the question instead of the word ‘God’. So the question would read ‘What does love do?”

Here’s a little list that is by no means complete:

1. Love tucks me into bed at night, listens to the good and bad things about my day, and gives me a kiss goodnight
2. Love encourages me to think about what is good for others. What does my brother/sister need, and how can I help?
3. Love is the joy I feel when playing in piles of autumn leaves, throwing snowballs, making sand sculptures, or running into the sea.
4. Love is joined to wonder – that feeling I get when starring at the stars on a cloudless night.

Another way of saying all the above is that God comforts and encourages us; God urges us to think about the needs of others; God joins us as we play; and God excites us in wonder.

Of course, particularly with no. 1, God has the human face and heart of your mum or dad.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - how does God make water?

Dear Revd Glynn,

How does God make water?

From Isabelle

This letter from Isabelle contained a postscript from her mum:

P.S. We have tried to explain the scientific theory, with atoms, molecules, electrons and things sticking together (like magnets!), but we wish Isabelle to explore other ideas as well. She has a very inquisitive mind and is always asking rather searching questions. We would appreciate it immensely if you are able to reply to this email, and no doubt future ones.

Dear Isabelle,

There are some things in this world that are made – like biscuits and television – and some things that just are there – like rain and ponies. Science can tell us what rain is made up of – all those molecules and things – and how ponies are born from their mothers, but science can’t really tell us how they are made. It’s not like someone sat down and designed and drew rain and ponies, and then made them. Some people when they don’t have an explanation from science say God made them. Well, God is the power of love that flows through the universe. God is not a Santa who sits in a workshop and designs and builds things. So the short answer to your question is that God didn’t make water – just like how love doesn’t make water.

Kind regards,


Go to Hell, straight to Hell

I was at breakfast with some friends when I was asked about hell. Not the pizza company that bears the name, but the celestial Dante version.

I told them the story of an Australian friend who in the rarified air of Sydney Anglican thelogical debates had to bite his tongue and quell his urge to either laugh or cry when listening to hellish debates. On one side were the snuff brigade - instant incineration. The snuffers were the 'liberals'. On the other side were the spit roasters - continual torment. They were the 'conservatives'.

My breakfast companions, being well-travelled, also had horror stories to share on religious nonsense. Such stories would be hilarious if only some people didn't believe them and subject others to them.

The conversation concluded with a question to me: "What do you think Glynn about heaven and hell?"

"Well," I replied, "if there is a heaven we are all going to be there. For some it will be paradise and for others it will be hell."

p.s. for those who haven't visited Mr Deity yet - check out their version of hell.


Questions from Isabelle - how was God made?

Dear Revd Glynn,

How was God made?

From Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

Some things have no beginning and no end. Not many things, but some things. Like infinity. Like space. Like love. These things just are. Love is not born when a mother has a child. Love is there already, like a bulb in the ground, and bursts into flower when the child is born. God is like infinity, space, and love. God was never made, or can be unmade.

Kind regards,


Questions from a 5 year old - Seeing God

One of the joys in life is engaging with an inquiring mind. As a priest it is a privilege to receive letters from children. What follows is a series of letters from Isabelle, a 5 year old, and my attempts as a 47 year old to answer her questions.

Dear Revd Glynn,

Why can't we see God?

From Isabelle.

Dear Isabelle,

Some people understand God to be a powerful man stuck up in the sky. I don’t. I think God is best thought of as love.

Love is, for example, something like the feeling between you and your mum. You can’t see that feeling but you can feel it. That’s what God’s like. You can’t see God but you can feel God, and God feels like love.

Another way to think of God is to imagine God is like the wind. Again you can’t see God but you can feel God’s effect. Being blown by an invisible force is both exciting and scary. Just like God.

Kind regards,


Winter Time

As the leaves continue to fall, denuding the trees, may the pressing demands of our lives likewise drop to the ground and be blown away. These demands can absorb so much of our life and light, fooling us into thinking they are so important.

Winter time is a season for the soul. It is time to draw on the inner life, on the reserves within, rather than on our bright personalities, skills, or relationships. Foliage without does not compensate for strength within.

It is time to sit down, mull over wine, and breathe slowly. There is a season to speak, and there is a season to be in the silent company of one. There is a season to write for others, and a season to write for your self. There is a time to feed the world, and a time to feed your soul.

It is strange how nature has us stand naked in winter shivering from the lack of protective foliage. All those bright accessories have fallen away. Our life has diminished. Our space has withered. Our growth has slowed. We feel vulnerable.

We wish the winter would move on. When will the new possibilities, fresh vision, and dynamic relationships spring forth? Can’t nature hurry up? After all there is a world to save and timetables to meet.

Prayer goes at its own pace. We think we are in control, but the prayer I’m talking about has a mind of its own. It takes its time and disregards mine. It giggles when I’m trying to be serious, and is sombre when I’m trying to be sociable. It is as elusive as the morning mist, and often as silent.

The leaves have all fallen now. The cold has come among the trees. The mist descends most mornings. There is aloneness, nakedness, and longing. Yet hidden away, beneath the bark, respiration continues.

I stand still in the park, leaving the dog to her antics. I try to breathe with the trees, feeling their wisdom, and trying to glean a little. Winter is soul time.


Lucky goes Video

Lucky is trying his hand at a new media (for him). He has just made his first YouTube video. In it we see and hear Lucky's view on baptism.

Bare Earth, Bare Feet, Bare Soul

“There is a considerable difference between walking on the beach with shoes on”, he said, “and walking with shoes off. The latter enhances the spiritual feeling.” I was listening to a radio interview with a gentleman who runs a charter boat in Fiordland. He didn’t want to get too explicit about what he meant by spiritual, and acknowledged that many people would pooh-pooh the idea. He concluded, “When you walk barefoot, with an open heart, on a beach or in the bush, something happens to your spirit.”

I’m reminded of Moses’ experience in Exodus chapter three. Confronted with the power of the extraordinary and mysterious he felt compelled to remove his shoes. The baring of his feet mirrored the baring of his soul. It symbolized removing a layer of protection, thereby increasing his vulnerability. Receptivity to the spiritual often involves a degree of vulnerability.

Vulnerability however did not inhibit Moses from disagreeing with the Divine. Vulnerability is not submission but the willingness to meet the metaphysical stranger. Sometimes we wrestle with and are wounded by this stranger, this God-of-the-mist. Sometimes we greet the stranger as the breaking dawn. Otherness can be both threatening and redemptive.

As I listened to the radio I mused about those experiences where the spiritual power embedded in the earth penetrates through protective layers into our very souls. I thought about the smell of dripping Urewera bush, the tingling sands of Bethell’s beach, the crescendo of crashing West Coast waves, and the song of a joyous Tui dipping its head into flax nectar. The power of smell, sight and sound mingles with mystery, vastness, and beauty. Indefinable heaven touches our earthly feelings, if we let it.

These spiritual feelings, these exchanges between heaven and earth, are not just about nature giving and we receiving. We are invited to participate, to enter into the wonder and magic of this power, and even into its longing and pain. This spiritual interaction can be thought of as a song. But the universe doesn’t sing and we passively listen, nor is it an invitation to blend into a celestial chorale. Rather we are invited, like with a jazz ensemble, to improvise in our own creative way.

There is, like with Moses, a call to us. The spirit song is not passive, detached from the potency and sufferings of planet earth. It calls firstly to the pain within us. The gentleman in the radio interview spoke of clients breaking down in tears. The spiritual power reaches out to us and we can feel both our alienation from it and our yearning for it. Sorrow and hope combine like a love song.

Secondly, the song calls to our power. It calls to that determination within us not to be overwhelmed by the demands of the dollar, the pressure of performance, and the commitments of family and community. It calls to that fighting spirit lodged in each of us – a spirit that longs to see harmony restored in and between people, and between the planet and its population.

Lastly, the song calls us to transcend our own needs for the needs of the whole. There is a piece of countercultural Jesus Zen that goes: ‘To find yourself you must lose yourself.’ We are reticent to lose ourselves, especially when so much of our Western world is geared to improving and fulfilling ourselves. We are reluctant to let go of what we want in order to consider the wants of all. Yet the paradox is that by transcending our personal desires we actually find the fulfilment we wanted all along. Unless more of us begin to care about the whole the world will go to pieces.

We begin by travelling to a place apart, taking off our shoes, feeling the vulnerability of both ourselves and the earth, listening for the call of the spirit song, and then wrestling with its meaning. Bare earth, bare feet, bare soul.


Parliamentary Prayer

In 1840 New Zealand, due to the wisdom of both government and church leaders, chose not to have an established religion. They did not want one branch of Christianity to be unfairly privileged. The parliamentary prayer has remained as an anachronism as New Zealand has changed into a society of many cultures and many faiths.

The current parliamentary prayer, while commendable for trying to curb self-interest and promote altruism, is a 19th century Christian product. The inclusion of antiquated words, like ‘Thy’, is insulting. By continuing to use such language it is inferred that Christianity is merely a religion of the past, of tradition and history, and is to be valued as an artefact rather than as a vibrant and life-changing contemporary faith. Indeed many of those in favour of the current parliamentary prayer argue that they want to retain an historic custom. It seems they want to preserve Christianity like a fossil from a bygone age.

There is a concern expressed in the current religious diversity debate that tolerance towards the perspectives of other faiths or none will lead to a diminution of the Christian faith. On the contrary I think tolerance can be understood not as a wimpy, ‘anything goes’ attitude, but as a vigorous engagement founded upon intrinsic respect for other human beings.

Every faith in New Zealand needs to be robustly proclaimed by its adherents. More education and public debate on religious matters should be promoted, not for the purpose of finding what we have in common, but for the purpose of learning to live together in this multi-faith society. I’m not going to dumb down my faith, or shut up when it’s too controversial, and I don’t expect proponents of other faiths to either.

While not compromising our heritage of human rights, particularly freedom of speech, destructive militant fundamentalism of whatever variety needs to be watched. However I suspect that extremism might be avoided more by allowing each faith the freedom to practice and proclaim its teachings, and by providing opportunities for public discourse, rather than by giving preferential treatment to Christianity.


We Don't Need Preferential Treatment

Parliament is not a house of prayer, and nor should it be. Politicians of course, like the citizens they represent, are welcome to pray individually how they wish. In Parliament however a corporate prayer indirectly endorses a religious view of the world and can be understood as divinely inspiring, and thus sanctioning, decisions. The parliamentary prayer subliminally co-opts Christianity as a handmaiden of the State. It is better for the health of each to keep separate.

Christianity doesn’t need preferential treatment. It doesn’t need privileges that aren’t available to other faiths. The understandings and insights of Christianity don’t need to be validated by any government; they are well able to stand on their own merits. We Christians don’t need parliament to use a Christian prayer. Our faith is not so weak as to be diminished by other faiths and other prayers. Likewise our faith doesn’t need to be shored up by the erroneous declaration that this is a Christian country.

In the history of Christianity the relationship with governments and ruling powers has been a mixed blessing. When a government adopts a religion as it’s favoured or only brand inevitably that religion is forced to make compromises. The ability of the Christian faith, for example, to critique regal injustice has often been compromised by the royal privileges it’s been consuming. For a religion to have power and wealth does not necessarily mean that faith will flourish, often the reverse.

Separation of church and state is not an atheistic idea dreamt up by those who wanted religion marginalized. It was an idea actively promoted by Christians who heeded Jesus’ warnings about the corrosive nature of power and wealth, and who were familiar with their history. Getting into bed with governments is not good for Christianity. Having Christianity with favoured status would also provide a precedent for the future when another religion might oust Christianity from its place of privilege. States with embedded religion usually oppress religious minorities.


Jesus healed illness not disease

I believe Jesus confronted the deep social, political, and theological illness of his society. This illness isolated and excluded those who were sick, different, and foreign. This illness created segregated poolside communities, dumping grounds for the tainted, Bantustans for the disabled... Jesus spent his life shooting holes in the philosophical and theological rationale that under-girded such segregation. He sought to bring the powerless to the powerful in order to question the nature and distribution of power. He sought to bring the labellers of illness to those so labelled in order that labels were lifted from the backs of the excluded. Jesus physically challenged and confronted the system of oppression.

Those who believe Jesus was a faith-healer who cured people’s disability have a problem. They have to believe that God physically intervenes to cure some and not others. This belief, however, apart from being irrational and immoral does not critique society at all. The disability is the man’s problem, not the society’s. The cure is fixing the man, not society. ‘There is nothing wrong with society,’ say the advocates of Jesus the faith-healer, ‘What is wrong is the man’s disability’. They paint Jesus as a healer of individuals, not a revolutionary out to change the world. He’s safer that way.

Jesus’ challenge to the lepers and disabled he met was to walk into confrontation. Following him wasn’t going to be all nice, safe, and predictable. It was going to be awkward, hard, and scary. Instead of sitting safe amongst the excluded waiting for some Benny Hinn, Jesus asked them to get up, and hobble along with Jesus into the so-called clean and able community and to challenge their prejudice. They weren’t going to be welcomed there. Sure they might find a few allies but generally they were going to be labelled anarchists, parasites, and told to go far away.


Did Jesus Heal?

Medical anthropology distinguishes between a disease and an illness. A disease is between me, my doctor, and a bug.[i] Illness is between me, my family, neighbours and society. Disease refers to the physical effects; illness refers to the social effects. AIDS then, for example, is both a disease - a bug affecting the individual, and an illness - how society relates to that individual.

Jesus healed illness by refusing to accept the ritual uncleanness and social rejection that accompanied disease in his time and culture. He forced others to either reject him from society or to include the diseased within it as well. He aligned himself with the outsiders in order to challenge the whole power structure of insider/outsider relationships.

I don’t believe that God endows particular people with the ability to go around laying their hands on those who are sick, disabled, and terminally ill, in order to instantaneously and supernaturally heal them. I don’t think that Jesus supernaturally healed diseases.

However, I do think there are people who by nature are therapeutic, and Jesus was one of them. I also think there is a lot about medicine we still don’t know and so-called alternative medicine should not be dismissed out of hand. Further, I think that prayer is often helpful and can affect both physical and social healing. There is still a lot of unknowns and mystery around healing.

On the other hand I am aware that people who are sick, and their families, are very vulnerable to charlatans and religious quackery. I am very sceptical about the antics of religious faith-healers, like Benny Hinn who has a billboard down the street. They invariably fail to answer why some are healed and some are not, and why some experience so-called ‘healing’ at the time and then regress shortly afterwards. If we believe that God is love, consistently wants the best for us, and can suspend the natural laws of the universe to effect that, then one needs to ask why some of the most loving and saintly people never heal and continue to suffer, and why some of the worst rogues seem to get a miraculous reprieve.

Benny of course, like many infamous faith-healers believes that God requires that he live as opulently as possible, including having a $49 million jet.[ii]

[i] Crossan, J. D. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, San Francisco : Harper, 1989, p.81
[ii] For further reading exposing Benny Hinn’s teachings search http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/bhinn.html


The Great Easter Deception

Like in the parable of the fire-maker, the first post-resurrection Christians found the liberating spirit of Jesus wonderful, enlightening, and world changing. However, in time, other Christians, especially some in positions of power, found it frightening. They wanted to restrain and control the Jesus spirit. They were anxious that people would take courage, turn the world upside down, and thus upset the way things are. They were anxious that their power would be reduced.

So what some leaders did was take the metaphorical language about sacrifice [that had been around awhile] and applied it definitively to the Easter stories. They turned Jesus’ death into a once-for-all blood sacrifice to cleanse us of our alleged sin. Instead of the forces of injustice killing Jesus all of us so-called sinners were responsible. His death was de-politicized. If it weren’t for our sin, so the story was re-told, he wouldn’t have had to die.

Jesus was now no longer the confrontational revolutionary prophet but a self-sacrificing lamb. Good Friday was not the Romans killing off a pestilent rebel but the assisted suicide of the forgiving martyr. Easter Sunday was not the days of new hope, determination, and resistance congealing among his followers but a 40-day power display in order to show the benefits of having Jesus forgive us.

Like in the story of the fire-maker, the religious elite believing that the spark of life, hope, and power had to be controlled turned Easter into an apolitical gratitude ritual. The elite wanted the fire-maker’s followers to feel grateful for what the fire-maker had done. The fire-maker had given his life. The fire-maker had given his life for their lives. The fire-maker had come back from the dead to prove it. The followers should always remember this and be grateful. And hopefully they’d forget how to make fire.

The Eucharistic meal, Holy Communion, was also subverted, turning it into a remembrance of Jesus’ forgiving love rather than as a challenge to take up the task of breaking open prison doors. The political status quo is quite happy to tolerate a religion of forgiving love. However a religion that is bent on literally setting captives free is both a problem and a threat.

In the parable of the fire-maker there are two villages with very different perspectives on the world. They have different understandings of fire, religion, and governance. In my experience of the Church there are two rivers. One is a river of life that flows through me, sustaining me, and challenging me to love and to liberate. That river has as one of its sources the resurrected spirit of Jesus. The other river is a river of guilt, cleansed by the blood of Jesus. People are warned that if they don’t drink from this river they will not have life.

Two villages. Two rivers. Two theologies. Our choice.