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 fa├žade 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,