12/30/2008

The New Year Party

One of the things about Jesus both in his teaching and social practice was that he liked parties. Time and again his stories end with a party. Time and again he is found with society’s desirables and dregs happily mulling life over around the dining table.

His critics noticed. ‘The people are suffering and yet you are celebrating?’ they sneered. ‘Mr Jesus, how can you be pious and party?’

They had a point. Jesus lived in Galilee, Palestine. It had been invaded by the Roman Empire and its greed some years before. Taxation was heavy. Most people lived on very little and were pressured to pay more. Resistance was brutally suppressed. There seemed little to celebrate.

This December in New Zealand there also seems little to celebrate. The pre-Christmas lay-offs featured. As the discretionary dollars dry up so does tourism. So do many consumer goods industries. Staff Christmas parties were downsized. More insidious and destructive however is the daily diet of ‘it’s going to get worse’.

In the time of Jesus there were other prophets who went around telling people a similar message. ‘It’s only the start of bad things’, they’d say. These prophets advocated belt-tightening, prayer, and hope that a God somewhere off the planet would come and rescue them.

Jesus, seemingly uniquely, had a confidence in the basic goodness of a God who was close at hand and close to the heart. It was an irrational confidence. Yet from that confidence emanated hope. It was a quiet assurance that all would be well even when everything looked so bleak.

There are many people who can look back over this year and recall heartache, tragedy, and pain. The deaths of the six students and their teacher in the flash flood at Mangatepopo. The abuse and murders of children like Nia Glassie and Jyniah Te Awa. The little publicised suicides that have been steadily increasing since the downturn in the financial markets.

Having a party to celebrate life when times are tough is not a crass act of denial but a tentative act of faith. It is not ‘eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’, but eat, drink, and be merry for today we are alive. It is getting together in the faith that no matter how desperate things seem the spirit of life is stronger still.

This New Year I hope we will not fix our minds on the over-consumption of beverages, or the resolutions we vainly hope to achieve. I hope we will not be bewitched by the usual talismans of success and our inability to acquire them.

Instead I hope we will quietly take stock of the good things in our lives. Many of us have relationships with partners, parents, children, or friends that nourish and sustain us. Many of us live close enough to walk or drive to a beach, or a forest, or a hilltop. Many of us can listen to nice music, watch a sunset, or admire a beautiful piece of art. Many of us are spiritually sustained by what we call ‘God’. We need to quietly take stock and be thankful.

Gratitude is a discipline. Irrespective of whether we in good health or not, been successful or lucky or not, or are rich or poor or somewhere between, gratitude is something we can choose to nurture within. We can then choose to share our sense of gratitude by giving to others.

12/24/2008

A Special Christmas Present

The whole thing of getting and giving presents, Christmas stockings, et al, isn’t really in the Bible. What is in the Bible though is living a generous life –
inviting people to share a meal with you,
helping someone who is in need,
being kind to strangers
giving to others

The origin of Santa Claus was this European bishop called Nicholas. Probably the best known story about him is when the poor tailor couldn’t afford the money necessary for his daughters’ weddings [he had 3 daughters!]. So Nick, quietly so no one would notice, climbed to the top of the tailor’s roof and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney.

Nick was generous. The tailor’s daughters were grateful.

Nowadays at Christmas time it seems most people want to be a tailor’s daughter and receive a nice present; and not many want to be a Nick – giving and getting nothing in return.

This year I received a special present when a group of people came and gave their time helping me move house. Apart from feeling very grateful it made me feel like helping others in similar circumstances.

12/14/2008

Walking in the Woods with God

A friend of mine in Canada, his name is Tom, shared this story with me:

A man wants to take his children out to the woods to experience nature, to enjoy creation and find a connection to God in it. He and his kids walk through the woods with the kids talking and stomping in streams, breaking dead sticks, kicking the leaves on the forest floor. Birds scatter at their approach and there is no other wildlife to be seen. The man, on several occasions, admonishes his kids to stop making so much noise so they can enjoy the sounds of the forest. The kids try but they just can't do it for more than a few seconds at a time. The man becomes increasingly frustrated and returns home with his kids feeling angry that the connection he sought and wanted to share with his kids couldn't be found. He tries this several times - hoping that, this time, the kids will be able to be silent and enjoy the sounds of nature. Each time he is frustrated and eventually gives up on his quest to encounter God in creation with his kids present. The walks continue. Then, as he is walking with his kids, talking and crunching and splashing their way through the woods he realizes that God has been screaming at him the whole time - through the conversations with his kids, the time together, in the splashing in the streams, in the crunching of the leaves and, yes, even in the scattering of the wildlife as they approached. The surprise of God was that God was present the whole time, just not where
the man was looking.

Tom
ocams.razor@gmail.com

12/09/2008

Letter from Isabelle: Is Jesus alive?

Dear Revd Glynn,

Is Jesus still alive?

Love from Isabelle.


Dear Isabelle,

The answer is no and yes. Let me explain.

Jesus was born about 2,012 years ago and he died about 1,979 years ago. He was a real man, made of real bones, skin, and flesh and blood. When he died all that real bones, skin and stuff died too. There is no real flesh and blood Jesus hiding in heaven or anywhere else.

However there is more to us, and more to Jesus, than just bones, skin, and flesh and blood. The most ‘real thing’ about Jesus was his love and his vision for how he wanted life to be. That ‘real thing’ lived on in his followers after he died. That ‘real thing’ still lives on in people who try to love as he did, and try to make the world a place similar to his vision.

This is what many people in the Church understand by the word resurrection. It wasn’t that the real bones, skin and stuff of Jesus came back to life and continued walking around in Palestine for the next so many years. Or that the real bones, skin and stuff of Jesus continues walking around on earth or up in the clouds somewhere. Rather resurrection is a way of talking about how the real love and vision of Jesus lives on within his followers, and sometimes even within people who aren’t his followers but love anyway.

Glynn

11/16/2008

On the subject of angels - Scene IV

One of the things we know about Jesus and about the stories he told was that hospitality was important. The simple meal was spiritual. Unlike a number of the religious thinkers of his day it wasn’t so much what you ate but your attitude towards those you ate with, or to be precise those you refused to eat with. Jesus practised an open hospitality refusing to let the social, political, religious rules governing who should socialize with whom, govern the tables he sat at. In the minds of many he opened himself to disease, to heresy, to spiritual impurity, to violence, and to the damnation of his soul. It is hard to get our 21st century minds around the foreign parameters of 1st century Palestinian culture.

To follow Jesus is to be hospitable enough to be uncomfortable. Sometimes this means giving up your ‘seat’, your place of privilege, for a guest while you perch on the edge, uncomfortable and inconvenienced.

When I was a child my grandparents had a custom of always cooking enough so that one more person could sit at the meal table. You were never sure just who might turn up and need some food. There was always an angel, whether prince, peasant, or pauper, who might need entertaining.

11/04/2008

On the subject of angels - Scene III

‘Goodness’ can be used to describe pleasure. A meal superbly cooked, served on the verandah, with the company of old friends and a slow sunset receives the accolade. As do other pleasurable pastimes and events.

Such goodness is a sensation. It is pleasure. Goodness is trust in friends. Goodness is letting the beauty of earth envelope our soul. Goodness affects our being. It is all around us and it is spiritual, or should we say ‘angelic’.

I have a friend who watches a lot of sport, of all varieties. He looks for those moments when the blend of fluidity, skill, and magic takes ones breathe away. Those moments for him give substance to the word good. They are wonderful to watch. For those of us who have participated in sport we also know those moments. They keep us turning up to practice. There is a grace of movement that affects us spiritually.

Yet there is a goodness that transcends these sensuous and often spiritual moments of pleasure, friendship, beauty, movement and skill. There is a goodness that seems to be just beyond us, offering a bigger all-encompassing horizon. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of this among us. Like a light that comes on only for a few seconds it leaves us with the sense of potential. In those glimpses we sense a bigger, more generous world where everything might still be possible. This is goodness that lifts our vision as we imagine what society could be.

10/28/2008

On the subject of Angels - Scene II

Edward Burne-Jones the artist once wrote: “The more discoveries science makes the more angels I shall paint.” His mission was to offset the negative influences of technology through the positive power of art. Of course science also can be creative and life-giving, and art can be destructive and life-sapping. But artists don’t like to acknowledge that.

As a theological thinker I find his angels more interesting. In the popular imagination angels are white-winged creatures, carrying bows or messages, well supported by the Christmas card industry. The Bible dispenses with the wings and has them purely as messengers. Note that a messenger of the Divine can also be a human being, or in Balaam’s case an ass. They don’t need to be invisible human-shaped demigods.

Burne-Jones uses angels as symbolic of transcendent goodness. When a piece of art is so outrageously attractive it eclipses a nearby machine that is the work of an angel. When a piece of music penetrates into the recesses of our soul it is the work of an angel. When a graceful action touches the mediocrity of our day and lifts our spirit that is the work of an angel.

10/26/2008

On the subject of Angels - scene 1

There was an old social worker I knew. She had fostered and cared for countless numbers of children. Although she was a gentle soul the words her son said at her funeral have stayed with me: ‘She cared enough to be angry’.

There is an anger that destroys the soul and there is an anger that fuels it. There is a flaring anger that leads to violence and destruction and there is an ember anger that fires the engine of change. The latter is stoked with compassion.

The old social worker didn’t just pick up society’s rejects she sought to challenge and change the causes of rejection. She was angry that the priorities of profit took precedence of the priorities of alleviating poverty, and she did something about it.

One of those children at the funeral called her ‘my angel’. By her actions she held out to us all a way of being both good and spiritual and challenging.

Another accolade that struck me at that funeral was that ‘She was humble enough not to give in’. Acquiescing to another’s power or the power of bureaucracies, while at times expedient, is not beneficial to the ‘little ones of the earth’ from whence the word humble derives. Sometimes the only way to be true to the earth, and be true to the collective good of all, is to stand against the arrogant assertions of others.

10/25/2008

Lucky's silence

Hi everyone,

I'm aware that I've been rather silent recently. There have been three main reasons for that which I'd like to share with you.

Firstly, I've spent a lot of time this year writing liturgy. Liturgy when its written for a congregation needs to involve considerable consultation. As such a liturgy takes about 6 months - beginning with writing and sharing that writing via email with a group of 6, then sharing it in public forums, then sharing it with theologians, then writing music for it, and finally trialling it with the congregation and inviting feedback over a two month period. This year I've initiated and crafted two. The current one is found here [following the notices for the week]: http://www.stmatthews.org.nz/images/UserFiles/File/WH%20&%20Pew%20Sheet.pdf

Secondly, I've spent a lot of time over the last three months bringing to conclusion a negotiation with our neighbour, the Auckland City Mission. They are wanting to do a major redevelopment of their site [a $70 million redevelopment] to enhance their services and offer new ones. Between our church and the Mission is a carpark that belongs to us. We have been negotiating to lease that carpark site to the City Council in order to transform it into a park whilst keeping a small portion [250 sqm] on the road front for a cafe/administration building. You can see a model of what is planned here: http://www.missioninthecity.org.nz/

Lastly, Lucky's time has been occupied caring for his wife who has fractured her back.

I have been writing sermons and a few other things which you can access through www.stmatthews.org.nz I'm currently working on a piece that is supportive of the Revd Ann Holmes Redding of Seattle who will shortly be defrocked for the crime of being both a Christian and a Muslim.

Blessings to you all,
Glynn

8/22/2008

'King' Crow

Steve Crow is right out of the Bible. With his ‘Boobs on Bikes’ parade in Auckland he’s styled himself as the wily David out to slay the Goliath of Auckland City Council and anyone else who dares disagree with him. And like King David of old he’s a great manipulator of public opinion.

There are ongoing debates in our society about the public displays of human flesh and sexual expression. The line that we consider permissible regarding nudity is somewhere between the latest swimwear fashions and nothing at all. With sexual expression that line is somewhere between kissing and copulating. In any ordered society there is always a line which the majority wish their government and councils to maintain and enforce.

Crow wants to cross the line. He calls himself the ‘King of Porn’. His product is pornography. To promote and launch his Erotica Lifestyles numerous porn stars, employees of Crow and his ilk, bared their chests down Queen Street.

There is also an ongoing societal debate about pornography. Pornography reduces sex to enhanced bodies and actions, whereas most adults consider sex in terms of love and commitment. This debate also has some gender demarcations. Generally speaking women see a connection between pornography and violence. And generally speaking men don’t.

As with nudity and sexual expression, our society via the Office of Film and Literature Classification draws a line about what is pornographically permissible. It also sets an age classification. That Office has no jurisdiction over Crow’s public street performance.

Yet undoubtedly King Crow’s parade, this year featuring scorpion tanks, is theatre. Political theatre. Crow knows he’s crossing the line of public decency and knows he can’t lose. His goal is to publicize his product. A mass arrest of the offending exhibitors, for example, would have helped his publicity even more.

Of course he argues that it’s not about his product but rather ‘freedom of expression’. In a culture that values pluralism kiwis are loathe to curtail freedom or invoke censorship. Yet he is manipulating the virtue of liberty for his own ends. Should his freedom to promote his product take priority over the freedom of others who are offended by it? What are the limits to diversity? Should his sense of taste be allowed to sour the public palate? Should we even have a discriminating palate?

To argue that topless porn stars should not display their silicon in public is to run the gauntlet of being called a prude, a religious moralist, a feminist, or politically correct. Every critic can easily be boxed and thus dismissed. The Auckland City Council was damned if they acted and damned if they didn’t. He’s crowing all the way to the bank.

The biblical story of David and Goliath is a piece of manipulative royal spin-doctoring. It was designed to tell King David’s followers he really was the big man. King Crow is trying to do the same.

7/31/2008

blue day god?

it’s raining again
the damp seeps into my soul
not much good
hap’ning today
feeling fat, tired, and cold
winter blues
even the coffee tastes bad.

most religions have
a god who will lift you
when you are down
a friend when you’re in need
a divine rescuer.
god is a shot of spiritual caffeine
who makes you feel good.

is there a blue day god out there?
you know one who
is sitting beside you
drinking cheap whisky
bemoaning the world
and feeling like crap…
one who feels as ugly as you?

or does god just do
happy cheer up
caring
hold your hand
pray for you stuff,
and poems like this
are heresy?

6/15/2008

A Visit to Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, is one of the great gems of the world. It holds a special place in architectural and Christian history. The original church was built by Constantine in the 4th century CE but was destroyed by fire. In the 5th century the second church was built but that too was destroyed. In 537 under the patronage of Emperor Justinian I the current church was completed. Two geometricians Anthemius and Isidore led a team of 7,500 architects, stonemasons, bricklayers, sculptors, and mosaic artists who amazingly finished the building within five years – and drained the treasury. Never again would the Byzantines construct such a grand edifice. For nearly the next 1000 years it was the greatest church in the world, and the largest domed building in Europe. In 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul they converted it to a mosque. In the mid 20th century it was turned into a museum where Christians, Muslims and others can come and admire its past glory.

For the last twenty years I’ve wanted to walk inside this building. I’ve wanted to feel its presence and awe. I’ve wanted to imagine the great preachers of the past who have proclaimed the sovereignty of God and critiqued the political powers of the day. I’ve wanted to say a prayer inside it, giving thanks, remembering, and hoping for a future that honours our Christian past and improves on it.

So it was with some surprise and unease that the building did not stir my soul. This architectural masterpiece, gem of history, and nursery of Christianity did not inspire me. Something was missing.

Maybe I should have paid more attention to the sign outside. It called the building a ‘museum’ - a place that was about the past, not the present. It felt like visiting a graveyard where tourists come to admire the architecture and beauty of the gravestones but know or care little about those buried there. The visitors are certainly not related to the dead.

It was relationship that was missing. There was no community who cared and prayed in Hagia Sophia. Even in St Peter’s, Rome, that glorious tribute to Vatican power, where like Hagia Sophia the tourist trains rumble through by the minute, there is a living community that imbues the building with a sense of religious devotion. Although as a Protestant I am no admirer of much Vatican-think, I do know a holy building when I’m in one.

Is a church building without a community of faith no longer a church but a museum, a mausoleum? It felt that way. The two-decade-old scaffolding that cuts the nave virtually in half speaks volumes. No community of faith, Christian or Muslim, would live with that. They would find another way to care for their building. Restoration has to serve the faith community, not vice versa.

I think for the sake of its soul Hagia Sophia should not have left the embrace of either Christianity or Islam. Of course it would have been wonderful if these two great religions could have shared it. But they haven’t and look unlikely to. Therefore it would be better if Hagia Sophia reverted to being a mosque rather than continue as it is today. Its better that this great Church of Christendom has a praying community than remain a tombstone of past religions.

And who says that the Christian God isn’t listening when a Muslim prays?

5/18/2008

Post-General Synod Reflections

Lucky is back in his usual habitat, enjoying the cubs, and answering lots of questions from other bears about General Synod.

Here are a few post-Synod reflections on the whole experience:

The venue, while opulent, had its limitations. We stayed on floor 20, ate on floor 17 and met in conference on floor 16. At one stage I didn’t walk outside the building for two days. The conference room was also just barely big enough. If environment affects not only the way business is conducted but also its contents, the Church was cooped up and cut off.

There was nothing spoken or decided that will make the front page of any international religious newspaper or magazine. Rather there was a lot a confirmation of previous decisions and directions.

In particular the Synod confirmed its ‘three-as-one’ Primatial arrangements. While the threesome reflects the power sharing between tikanga that is important to model, there are concerns that internationally it will decrease our power [having a different person to represent us every third meeting] and it will lead to a less than forthright critique of our Church and society [as evidenced in this years Primatial charge to the Synod].

The episcopal structure of the Diocese of Waikato was confirmed. This is two bishoprics [regions] joined by a common administrative arrangement. Each of the two bishops is Bishop of Waikato. We have our first co-bishop arrangement. Maybe a world first?

Regarding episcopal structures, the General Synod also passed legislation allowing for the appointment of a coadjutor bishop. This is where a bishop announces his/her intention to resign, the diocese elects a successor who is second-in-charge until the resignation, and then the coadjutor automatically becomes the diocesan bishop. The implication of this legislation is that if Auckland Synod wishes we could have an election for a coadjutor before the end of this year.

Regarding issues of the international Anglican Communion and homosexuality, the General Synod largely expressed its previous directions. It affirmed that there is a diversity of opinion within our Church, that we need to keep talking, that we don’t think there are reasons we should walk away from the Communion, and that most of us don’t think a Covenant is necessary. In the ‘most of us’ category, it was particularly powerful to hear a strong unanimity of pro-gay opinion from the Maori Church. Polynesia’s opinion was more mixed. In the Pakeha dioceses Waiapu and Dunedin were clearly pro-gay, Auckland, Christchurch, and Waikato mixed, and Nelson and the current Wellington leadership against.

5/15/2008

Lucky 'fesses up

I wish to thank the Liturgical Commission for their work in continuing to slowly mark in legislation the variations to the Great Thanksgiving that the whole Church can currently accept.

I am among those who write liturgy that is quite different from what the whole Church can accept. Indeed speaking in this forum of this subject is somewhat akin to a 21st century novelist sharing their work with the Shakespearean Society, when the Shakespearean Society has the power to censor.

Thank you too to tikanga Maori. The principle of the intent of the inherited words is helpful to some in my tikanga too. It encourages local variation. One of the great examples is the Te Reo Maori translation in the New Zealand Prayer Book of “We are all in Christ” – “Ko te Karaiti te pou herenga waka”. Te Reo pictures Christ as a mooring post and we in wakas.

“Intent” is very helpful in our passion to be a mission-focused Church. Our liturgies are one of our faces to a world that knows little of Christ. Too often the language of the past makes liturgy unintelligible to newcomers, and I might add many regulars. So parishes like ours, in order to preach Jesus, take license with liturgy. We prioritize mission ahead of liturgical compliance with tradition.

I hope and pray that the words we say with our lips and believe in our hearts will have the ability to communicate our truth to those who have never heard it.

Lucky moves a bill

“Mr President,

This bill seeks to regularize and affirm what is commonplace in many parishes. While it is usual for marriage services to be conducted in church buildings or customary places of worship, there arise from time to time good pastoral and missional reasons for the service to be held elsewhere.

On the one hand, for example, I have taken a service in a home where the grandmother was dying. On the other hand I have taken a service in the grounds of Larnach Castle. The latter venue, like a number of wedding venues in Auckland, was chosen not just for its beauty and ease of having the reception 10 metres away. Indeed it is not as simple as assuming that the couple want somewhere ‘pretty’ compared with the local parish church which mightn’t meet such expectations.

Larnach Castle was chosen because, like for many couples or one half of the couple, they had some disquiet about having a wedding ceremony in a church. Many people believe they can only have a ‘church wedding’ if they hold to the beliefs and doctrines of that church. Despite attempts by clergy like me to assure them otherwise they often feel hypocritical coming into a church for this one time in their lives. It is often a big enough step to have a cleric involved in their wedding ceremony.

This is what I mean by missional reasons. Weddings outside church buildings are opportunities for clergy and other licensed ministers to share by their presence and language something of the truth and inclusiveness of God’s love and grace. It is in a sense the church going out to people. I think there is something deeply moving about representatives of the church being invited to participate in witnessing the expression of committed love between two people and naming it as a window into God.

Marriage is the only sacrament for which a venue is legislated. The Eucharist can be celebrated anywhere. Baptisms are sometimes done in other places, notably hospitals. Ordinations have been done in other places, for example nga marae. Holy Unction is nearly always done outside a church building. Confessions are be heard anywhere. Although not a sacrament, funerals frequently take place in other settings. Of course God too is not confined to ecclesiastical buildings, although some have tried.

There is an increasing trend in our society for marriages to take place in venues that aren’t exclusively religious. Our present Anglican rules discourage this. Some clergy ask their bishop for permission although strangely it doesn’t seem to be required.

There are often practical drawbacks with other venues. The sound quality is usually wanting. The acoustics for music are usually dreadful. After one bad experience I stipulate that there will be no wedding service if alcohol is served immediately prior.

However there is one huge advantage in an outside wedding. The couple, whether acknowledged or not, have identified a place that they think is sacred, just as their love is sacred. That provides the priest with the opportunity to talk about sacred things, about God, and about how spirituality can be nurtured.

St Matthew-in-the-City is an iconic neo-Gothic building to which some 70 couples come for marriage or blessings every year. Many of those couples seek us out via the internet and make their decision based on our theology rather than just our architecture. Still, there are many couples for whom crossing the threshold of a church building is too much, and yet they still want a priest involved.

I would ask this Synod to consider favourably this amendment proposed by the Diocese of Auckland and standing in my name.”

5/13/2008

Lucky does process

It’s hard to keep a bouncy bear down. Yep, you guess, he popped up again this morning at General Synod/te Hinota.

“Mr President, please pray tell, what plans are in place to engage critically with the six politicians visiting us this evening?”

Yes, that was the programme. In this election year the Synod wanted to engage with our parliamentary parties regarding poverty, health, education, and housing.

Three hours later the bear got an answer. We were to listen to each politician for 20 minutes, leaving a grand total of 10 minutes at the end for questions.

Lucky pulled at his ears trying to clean out a twig or two. Did they really say “10 minutes??”

Well, sometimes a bear has to do what a bear has to do.

“Mr President, I move the suspension of Standing Order 10 [F] to discuss over the next two hours what we think the issues facing the nation are, collect our thoughts, and present those thoughts to our guests prior to listening to the upcoming political prattle.”

Lucky got lots of backslaps and was suddenly popular.

And so it happened. This preparation should of course have taken place months ago. The result tonight however was better than nothing. And, so he was told, the bear saved the company face. It’s nice to be appreciated sometimes.

One thing Lucky Bear can always spot is a great royal cock-up.

Lucky takes a stand

“Members of General Synod/te Hinota,

There is a question of justice.

Mindful of our Bible Study this morning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and where our location might be in the story, I speak as one responsible for an inn - an inn where the beaten, the Samaritans, and even wayward priests, Levites, and the odd lawyer come to enjoy a pint or dram, and receive some comfort or challenge.

Our inn, St Matthew-in-the-City Auckland has for a long time now been both the home and a symbol of hope to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities, and we have been privileged and at times daunted by the responsibility to speak out.

We have a deep anger and profound disappointment in the way the International Anglican Church has treated Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire for the so-called sin of being true to who he is and daring to love another man. That anger is compounded by the silence of so many church leaders both at home and aboard in publicly declaring unequivocal support for the justice struggle for the gays, lesbians, and their families.

We do acknowledge and give thanks for the bishops, priests, and laity some of whom are in this room who have stood beside, ordained and blessed gays and lesbians in relationships. Thank you for your courage and solidarity. May justice one day come, even in the Church.

Our Anglican Church has heard from those with opposing views to St Matthew’s and who are hurt, angry and wish to walk away. And of course those views hurt us at St Matthew’s, as no doubt ours do to them.

There are some among us who also wish to walk away and join those who already have.

However most of us at the inn, after another round, are sticking with the Church, for better or for worse, as our gay and lesbian ancestors and saints have done throughout the ages.

This is not just an issue of church polity or unity but an issue where marginalized communities on the periphery of church life are waiting to hear whether justice is being compromised by how we Christians read the Bible.”

Lucky supports the Diocese of Waikato

They’re a little different in Waikato. It’s a rural diocese with far too many theological conservatives. It’s got two distinct regions and two nice bishops – one the boss and the other the second-in-charge (2IC).

Well they want to model Episcopal partnership. The boss and the 2IC want to share the job. They don’t however want to split the diocese into two and replicate all those lovely boring and expensive diocesan structures. Instead they want a catamaran: two hulls [one in each region] with a minimal and shared structure linking them.

Their motivation is mission. They want to have their bishops close to the people, enabling mission, rather than stagnating in committees and buried in canons. It sounds good to Lucky.

It didn’t sound good to Christchurch. They do conservatives of the bigoted variety down there. Their bright idea was that anything innovative like this should in the light of international Anglican unrest be sent out to the wider Communion for consultation. The norm they said was ‘One bishop, one diocese’. This was a ‘treasure’ and not to be tampered with.

Lucky was having a quiet vomit under his seat after hearing this. But he composed himself, girded his loins with a little something, and once again addressed the microphone:

“What comes first: mission or the structures to support mission [like episcopacy]? Structure has for too long taken priority over and curtailed our mission. The reason that structure was so fluid in the New Testament was because mission was so strong. The church is forever muddling up the cart and the horse. It is mission that leads structure, not the other way round.”

The Waikato table gave Lucky an appreciative grin, and later at the bar paid for Lucky’s fluid requirements.

5/10/2008

Lucky goes into committee

It’s hard work being a bear. I had to sit still nearly all day and listen to the boring deliberations of church leaders concerned for good order. Good order needs to happen of course. All that good order is preferable to bad order, or unjust order, or ‘oops-we-forgot-about-that’ order. It’s just that I’m a bear who likes to play, and laugh, and create… Oh well, maybe I can crash a party tonight or something.

We sat around circular tables in diocesan groups and have our diocesan opinions canvassed. The lawyers talked too much – their concern with words seems to override any awareness of the somatic effects of their tones. I think there was one or two laughs, although I can’t remember any jokes.

Mind you some of the language in the papers was laughable. How about this one: ‘the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd’. When the Church resurrects a Greek word from the first few centuries CE you know you are in trouble. ‘Catechesis’ is a dumb way of saying ‘a learner’s guide’. This particular guide for the about-to-be-educated was called the Good Shepherd. Again relevancy to contemporary culture has never been the Church’s strong point. There are no shepherds or sheep in downtown Auckland and we’d like to keep it that way. For the biblically minded Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd. Yes, he once used the language in a parable, a made up story, to illustrate his point. In downtown Auckland we don’t need carpenters either – they tend to be in the ‘burbs. Made up stories, like mayoral speeches or newspaper editorials, though are part of our life.

As a bear I dream of the day when the Church will make up some new stories about Jesus and us. He could be the ‘good bear’ who tells the hungry cubs and their parents where the honey is. Or he could be the ‘good hunter’ who only shoots us with a camera. As a downtown bear JC could be the good barista who knows what we want before we enter the shop. Or the good parking warden [if that’s not an oxymoron] who only puts tickets on the cars of rich people.

Another language thing today in the General Synod was the promotion by Wellington Diocese, and most of the UK Anglican apparatus, of ‘Back to Church Sunday’. Lucky immediately thought of all the ways that church is backwards including its marketing department. The promotion of course assumes that once upon a time you went to church. Most of my friends at the cafĂ© and on the street haven’t. Then again do you really want some of those who left church to come back? You know the bossy bank manager who was trying to create a new fiefdom? Or the organist who couldn’t play for peanuts but thought she could?

I think I will need to download some more stamina before tomorrow,
LB

5/03/2008

The soul's search for contentment

the track was hard on the heart
but good on the soul
altitude limited oxygen
silence and splendour were inhaled

the soul can be enlarged
or retracted
it can be be stretched
or shrivelled

beauty does it well
so does love
the best however is
giving without gain

fists and words can wound
so can hate
the worst however is
binding with no release

the soul can soar when
uplifted by generosity
but until it loosens bindings
it will not know contentment.

4/15/2008

Question from Isabelle: Jesus

Dear Rev. Glynn,


Why is Jesus special?


Love from Isabelle.


Dear Isabelle,

Although I think there are lots of reasons Jesus is special, there are three things that stand out for me.

Firstly, he broke the rules. In his culture and religion there were lots of rules about who could eat together, talk together, and hold hands. Jesus made a point of eating, talking, and touching with all the people he shouldn’t have. He didn’t believe in the rules that kept people from each other.

Secondly, he believed the most powerful thing in the world was love. Out of all the things in a religion it was love that was holy. When people love each other we see something of God.

Thirdly, he believed that each person, including Glynn and Isabelle, are precious, wonderful and worthy of dignity and respect. No human life is worthless. Every person, even the meanest, is one of God’s children.

Glynn

4/14/2008

just surfing

sometimes when I'm feeling bored I go surfing. a bad place to start is by googling my name and around page 6 or so hitting the blogs of people rubbishing me. although i'm not so sure its me - cause they either spell my name wrong or give me a sex change. mind you maybe its just that my critics can't read!?

i'm slagged off firstly by the rightwing catholics, then by the you're-wrong-i'm-right evangelicals. they even have a some good sites [good as in technical]. then in my surfing I occasionally come across a Blinkley Baptist Church in North Carolina. the senior pastor quoted a large chunk from SMACA :

it kind of makes up for all the shit if you know wat I mean.
off to find a decent wave,
glynn
[n.b. my name has 2 n's. and no i'm not bloody sensitive about it!!!]
the photo by the way is me chilling out reading some byzantine history in the back of a campervan. now those guys really did heresy big time

3/22/2008

A Chocolate Easter Egg

For those of a sweet bent, Easter is chocolate. Chocolate eggs rain down upon us.

The association of eggs with Easter comes not from Christianity but paganism. Eggs, like bunnies, symbolised the Spring hope of fertility that new life will come again despite the harshness of winter. Christians however weren’t stupid – they could recognise a good thing. Chocolate eggs were too good to pass up.

Eggs though are encased in shells. They are containers, holding goodies within. In time they crack open to allow the chick to come out and grow up. A container and its contents are quite different.

At Easter time in church there is a lot of make-believe language. A dead Jesus coming back to life, stones being rolled away, bursting out of hell’s prison, victory over death…

This old familiar language, like a fairy tale, is the container, the shell of Easter. But it isn’t its contents.

The content of Easter is the belief that Christians hold that love is stronger than hate, and hope is stronger than despair. Love and hope is seen in the changes in people’s lives.

Easter isn’t about believing in the literal words of an old fairy tale. It’s about seeing lives changed, joining that movement that wants to colour the world in love and joy.

Now back to the chocolate…

3/14/2008

Seven deadly sins given a makeover

The Seven Deadly Sins have been given a makeover. Out goes sloth, and in comes pollution. Out goes greed, and in comes poverty. Out goes envy, and in comes drugs. The Vatican in revising Pope Gregory’s 6th century menu has gone contemporary, eco-friendly, and socially just.

Yet before the makeover artists get to work maybe all Christians should pause and consider the sin business. The appropriation of the traditional sins by Hell’s Pizza says more than clever marketing. As most teenagers will tell you Church statements on sin are not to be taken seriously.

It would be better if the Churches gained some integrity by humbly and publicly confessing their own ‘sins’ – those barriers erected over the centuries that make it difficult for 21st century people to relate to the notion of God.

First on the list would be Christianity’s penchant for equating faith in God with believing in impossibilities. Like virgin mothers and dead men coming back to life. Does faith really require us like Carroll’s Queen of Hearts to believe ‘six impossible things before breakfast’?

Related to this is Christianity’s long history of deprecating the insights and wisdom of science. Remember the ridicule and worse suffered by Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. The Church has consistently been dismissive of any inquiry or knowledge that contradicts its own hegemonic worldview.

Third on the list would be the club. The Church has reduced faith in God into a club. To belong not only do you have to behave but also you have to believe the right things. Its members have been defined as ‘right thinkers’ or orthodox, and it’s non-members as ‘wrong thinkers’ or heretics.

In addition Christianity has deemed that some non-members lifestyles and beliefs are so appalling that not only are they to be excluded they are to be vilified and persecuted. Those vilified include gays, lesbians, independent women, Jews, and Muslims.

Christianity has long had a fixation with sex, seeing it as the source of evil. Any sexual behaviour or indiscretion outside of what it considered normative was particularly condemned. The message within the Church’s own tradition that sex is God-given and beautiful has been submerged beneath waves of fear.

Sixth on the list is power, clergy power. Rather than seeing its leaders primarily as facilitators of spiritual inquiry, Christianity created a priesthood that time and again exercised a level of restraint over the community that had little to do with love and grace, and lots to do with status and control.

Lastly, there is the notion of sin itself. The Church turned sin into a business and reaped significant financial rewards. Lashings of guilt, confession, and penance were doled out. It served to bring people down rather than lift them up. It sought to make people dependent and fearful, not independent and fearless.

Rewriting Pope Gregory’s list will not absolve the Christian religion of wrongdoing. While it is fixated on sin Christianity will not address the spiritual needs of our age. Instead the Church needs a makeover.

We need a humbler Church: one that is willing to learn and change; one that understands faith as a human spiritual journey; one that is not fearful of new truths and doesn’t seek to control them; one that values all people regardless of behaviour, beliefs, and background; one that values justice and freedom; and one that is mindful of its power and uses it wisely.

This is a Church whose thinking won’t be reduced to pizza.

2/28/2008

Heart of a Leader

1 Samuel 16:7: “But Yahweh [God] said to Samuel, “Do not look on one’s appearance or on the height of one’s stature… for I do not see as mortals see. They look on the outward appearance, but I look on the heart.”

It’s a great verse for the ugly, fat, and impotent! Power and looks are something that we are all meant to aspire to and never quite be satisfied with. Wouldn’t it be great if Hollywood chose its stars on the state of their hearts?

The context of the verse though is leadership – it is part of the ‘Rise of King David’ legend. And it is still as relevant today in the context of political and church leadership as it was when the biblical writers first ascribed these words to God.

As you may recall Saul preceded David as king. He was the first king of Israel. Saul had not aspired to kingship. He had considered himself the ‘least of all people in Israel’[i]. The prophet Samuel and Yahweh the God had other ideas. Saul was to be the solution to the Ammonite and Philistine problems. They were persistently pesky neighbours. The former he dealt to, the latter he tried to but failed.

It is maybe not surprising that when victory seemed elusive that the writers turned against King Saul. This is standard political behaviour – failure to produce results is not tolerated for long. Consider too that they were writing in King David’s time and needed to explain Saul’s demise and why the mantle of Yahweh’s favour was transferred to David. The authors portray Saul as fated to fail: exhibiting bouts of unrestrained violence, obsession with control, irrational jealousy, and, behind it all, military impotency. The troubles of this emergent monarchy were psychologically transferred onto its leader.

Leadership often attracts such response. People then and now psychologically project their fears and hopes onto their leader. If he or she does not act decisively, deal to the enemy, or exhibit some other way of being strong, the populace reject him or her. Leadership unfortunately is frequently the art of appearances. It is often hard, as is the case currently with the U.S primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, to see beneath the appearances to the substance and character of the leader.

Our story today has the prophet Samuel, the same who anointed/appointed Saul travelling to Bethlehem intent on anointing/appointing someone new. Samuel is acting rebelliously to bring Saul’s kingship to an end. So he goes with the alibi of making a sacrifice to Yahweh. The people however are not fooled [v.4], they know what his mission is and are very apprehensive.

Samuel gets instructions to check out the sons of Jesse and discern who is destined for power. Starting with the eldest, who would naturally have primacy, Samuel works down the male members of the family. Yahweh whispers to the prophet not to look on their height [read military prowess] or their good looks. Yahweh is interested in male hearts.

Of course after this anointing of David the royal apologists write up David as having military prowess, as shown in the slay-the-giant saga, and as being handsome. Goliath comments on how tanned and handsome David was [NIV 1 Samuel 17:42]. It seems that although the Divine might look at the heart we humans quickly forget about hearts and concentrate on leaders’ power and appearance.

It is somewhat unnerving to consider how relevant a passage of Scripture written in some 2,500 years ago can be to today. I think it behoves us to spend a few minutes contemplating what might be involved in heart leadership.

Firstly, heart leadership involves compassion. The roots of compassion are important. The leader must deeply sense that they are special only because everyone is special. The leader must not think they are uniquely talented and chosen in a way that makes them look down on others they or associates deem to be untalented and unchosen. Leaders need to have a strong sense of solidarity with all humanity. When the people hurt they must feel that hurt.

Allied with this is the humility to accept the gifts that others bring, and the realization that one person doesn’t have it all. People need a leader who makes them feel part of a team, an enterprise. A leader uses the word ‘we’ often. A leader depends on the strengths of the team, and vice versa. A leader is not the only person in the eye of the camera. There is nothing bad about needing each other. The myth of the self-made, self-contained man or woman needs to die on the humble altar of acknowledging our need of each other.

The power of a heart leader is that of influence not authority. I think theology has something to teach us in this regard. I believe God is like an animating spirit of love that works through people. This spirit of love has a power - but it’s not the power of armies, wealth, and empire. It is not the power of control. It is instead the power of a changed heart, a forgiving spirit, and a fearless hospitality. This is not the power of coercion, violence, or manipulation. Therefore it is seemingly not all that strong at all. But it is the power of self-giving love that I believe and hope has the strength to endure beyond every despot, and every inflated ego.

A heart leader must have the courage to risk being unpopular. My colleague Clay has a metaphor about earning and spending poker chips. A leader earns chips [goodwill] from his or her constituency as he or she works for them, building trust and respect. There comes though a time when a good leader will spend the chips – namely ask the people to follow him or her even if they disagree with them. I think the recent passing of the law curtailing the convention of smacking children is a good example of both major parties choosing to do what was right rather than what was popular. I long for the day when vicars and bishops will spend their ‘chips’ and support social changes that the majority of New Zealanders may be uncomfortable with. Goodwill needs to be spent for the betterment of the marginalized.

Lastly a heart leader needs to call us beyond our own needs and wants. Most leaders today seem to be managers – ably, or not so ably, managing budgets, people, projects, and expectations. In a diverse and cosmopolitan society political practice quickly becomes the art of management. People, like the media, are problems to be managed. Appearances and power need to be maintained.

Leadership however is different. It offers people a vision of joining with something bigger than themselves. Something so big every barrier is broken, every prejudice challenged, every person embraced, and every heart expanded. When faith, hope, and love are reduced to membership cards of an elite club we have lost the big picture. Real faith is the courage to risk, real hope is the energy of making dreams come true, and real love is self-giving generosity. These don’t belong in any club or party. They are wild and free.

I hope in this year of elections that those who aspire to leadership will know the importance of compassion, the importance of solidarity with all, the importance of the need of others, the importance of the power of love, the importance of the courage to risk, and the importance of calling us to something bigger than ourselves.

As Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel the Hebrew verb ‘to see’ occurred repeatedly. The focus is on how one sees when choosing leaders. There is always the temptation to see what is on offer, what is exceptional in appearance, what meets accepted standards, what is impressive, what is beautiful, what seems secure, appropriate and fitting. But in God’s eyes such things are irrelevant. The prophet Samuel courageously seeks out more alternatives. It is the heart that is at stake – the heart of the leader and the hearts of the people.

[i] 1 Samuel 9:21

2/27/2008

Dear God I Don't Want To Be Saved

Dear God,
All things considered life is very good.
So, without sounding ungrateful,
I don’t want to be go to heaven,
I don’t want to be rescued,
and I don’t want to be saved.
If that’s all religion is you can keep it in a church.

I do though want to be part of something big.
Something much bigger than me.
Something so big that every barrier is broken,
every prejudice challenged,
every person embraced,
and every heart expanded.

If faith is only for the faithful,
if hope is only for the deserving,
and if love is only for the lovable,
then they are worthless, glittering imitations.
For real faith is the courage to risk,
real hope is the energy of dreams
and real love is the essence of divinity,
wherever, and among whomever, they are found.

So God,
shape with me, don’t break with me;
make with me, don’t take me;
join with me, don’t redeem me.
Let’s risk, dream, and love together
joining hands with believers and unbelievers,
the saved and unsaved,
the pious and the pagans…
for life is very good.
Lets make it better.

2/22/2008

Keeping the Balance

A parable by Paulo Coelho:

“A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from a wise man. The lad wandered for many days and finally came upon a beautiful castle. It was there the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a ‘saintly’ man, though, the lad, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corridors, a small orchestra was rehearsing, and there was a table covered with mouth-watering food. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention.

The wise man listened attentively to the lad, but told him that he would have to wait to hear the secret of happiness. He suggested the boy explore around the palace and gardens and return in two hours.

“Meanwhile,” I want to ask you to do something”, said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the castle, keeping his eyes fixed on the teaspoon. After two hours he returned to where the wise man was.


“Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around, the beauty of the flowers… Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man.

Looking down at the teaspoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you”, said the wise man. “The secret of happiness is to enjoy all the marvels of the world, but never to forget the drops of oil on the teaspoon.”
[1]

The wise man in the parable is familiar with some of our realities. He is busy with multiple demands!! He is not a ‘normal’ wise man. Usually in stories the wise are in a serene state, seemingly unimpeded by demands and expectations. Furthermore the wise are quite detached from wealth and live in poor surroundings. Neither is the case in this parable. The question is therefore posed: “How does one remain wise while living with responsibilities and possessions?”


The lad who is seeking happiness undergoes the teaspoon test twice, and fails both times. The first time he is completely focused on the oil. That teaspoon symbolizes his inner world. He tries to engage with the outer world, the wondrous world he meets in the castle and its grounds, but can’t shift his focus from his inner world.

The inner world, the soul, certainly needs to be cared for. This is the place where the ground of love is prepared, where dreams take root, and where hope is watered. Yet when the inner world becomes one’s sole preoccupation it leads to self-absorption.

In churches we sometimes get people who are totally engrossed with their own spiritual journey that they overlook - sometimes purposefully - the world around them. Their faith is all about them and God. They nurture that teaspoon to the detriment of everything else. They begin to believe the teaspoon is everything.

The second time the lad undergoes the test he is alerted to the outer world. He generously and hospitably welcomes new thoughts and feelings. But in doing so he overlooks his own soul.

The outer world is noisy, busy, and demanding. It is also often colourful, interesting, and exciting. It wants our attention. Indeed it wants our adherence to the latest product it’s peddling. These products are often good, and so we go along.

I had a friend who lived almost solely in the outer world. He was gregarious and welcoming. I imagined him running a great pub. He listened to and discussed life with all and sundry. But I was never sure whom I was talking to. Was I talking to him or to the person he was last talking to? Did the spinning merry-go-round of his life have a centre? Or was it all spin?

“What does it profit a man or woman to gain the whole world and lose his or her own soul?” [Mark 8:36]


The parable reminds us to the importance of both the outer and inner world. It reminds us of the importance of our interaction with the subcultures and issues of our time and the importance of our own soul. It reminds us that neither can be dispensed with.

[1] Adapted from Coelho, Paulo The Alchemist, New York : HarperCollins, 1998, p.32-34.

1/23/2008

Camping with Mormons

Summer time in our family means camping and the beach. Each year we get out the tents and other essential paraphernalia, load the surfboards and sunscreen, and head north. We are what some call ‘rough campers’ – preferring the relative peace of an isolated paddock, enjoying the blessed absence of electricity, and tolerating long-drop toilets. The thought of cuddling up in some campground with a host of others doesn’t appeal. This year we were invited to pitch our tents on land belonging to a local Maori family, and inevitably we got to know them and their whanau. They were Mormons.

Now I must confess that I’m not too knowledgeable about the Church of the Latter Day Saints. I’d heard of Joseph Smith, his exclusive interview with an unknown angel, and his ability to write America into the Bible. I’ve read an article or two and shooed a few clean-cut Utah lads off my doorstep, but I’d never really sat down, talked, and eaten with them. Generally I try to avoid those of a fundamentalist bent.

Over the two weeks of our camping holiday as our kids played and swam through lazy days there were lots of opportunities to talk and eat. The grandfather was the paramount chief of the area. I meet three of his children. They all worked in helping professions – one a teacher in a bilingual unit, one running therapy groups in prisons, and one with Drug and Alcohol education. There were lots of aunties and cousins who came by. The Maori sovereignty flag flew above the campsite.

Three things impressed me. Firstly their spirituality was integrated with all they did. It seemed that their culture and how they appropriated their religion affirmed the best in each other. It was no surprise that the family were heavily involved in helping people both in their work environment and at home. Given that spirituality is also integral to all I do we shared a rapport that in many ways transcended our theological differences.

Secondly, the absence of alcohol was refreshing. I am increasingly conscious of the negative effects of alcohol in our culture and the rapid rise of alcohol abuse among young people. I would love New Zealanders, including churches, to voluntarily abstain from alcohol consumption for a year in order to experience life without it. In many places new forms of socialising would have to be tried. This family we met are proving it can be done and life can still be very enjoyable.

Lastly, as we talked about politics, culture, and religion there was a refreshing lack of defensiveness and little determination to convert me. They were interested in my perspective. They certainly didn’t have a fundamentalist rigidity about them. When I chided them about the absence of female clergy and their views about gay couples, they would smile but not avoid the issues.

Later one auntie confessed, “We’ve never met anyone like you.” I thought I’d never met anyone like them.