Middle of Advent

The Downs Church

How are you faring? Is Christmas yet intruding?  (The legendary 12 days commence on December 25th).

Advent is about preparation and anticipation. Juggling our busy timetables to accommodate “early Christmas” celebrations puts us between a rock and a hard place. Our collective psyche is responsive to the deep rhythms of preparatory and celebratory seasons. The weeks leading to the celebration of the Nativity of the Christ are meant to be times of reflection on past, present and future yearnings around the themes of hope, peace, joy and love.  In some traditions, fasting is even required. And then – Christmas! Feasting, laughing, celebration – that which is yearned for is now here! Snap bonbons! Drink toasts! Sing carols! Emmanuel! God is here!

In our muddled chaos, these things will bleed into the Advent season. Internally, however, we can maintain the rhythm.

Blessed Advent in preparation for a Blessed Christmas!

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Thoughts on Current Political Discourse

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Today I am distracted by the Clinton/Trump debate. It’s running in the background while I attend to some other desk chores. Political discourse tends to glaze my eyes these days – we’ve had so much that is disappointing in our own wide brown land.

A lot of people here ask what business is it of any but U.S. citizens how they select their President. After all, we get cheesed off when visiting commentators presume to advise us and we’re likely to tell them to go and “dip their eye in fig jam!”

The world has a legitimate interest in US politics, however, as the USA sets so many global trends. Australia is inextricably linked to US policy through alliances, treaties, trade agreements and other deals. We host its military bases and have, at times, been nominated as its “deputy” in this corner of the globe.

So I guess there is an understandable concern about the outcome of the coming November elections.

Both leading candidates have had their flaws mercilessly exposed and so much seems to hinge on this initial debate, let alone the two follow-up sessions. Success, according to media, seems to be predicated on who avoids the most prominent stuff-up in their presentation.

Vision and inspired leadership seem to take a back step in all reported political discourse now and many politicians seem to pander to the media’s insatiable appetite for the sensational “grab” or the “gotcha” moment.

Lament, modelled on the Psalms, leads to a declaration of hope. So where can I finish? It’s with the awareness that not only those caught up in the political maelstrom seek to provide leadership in our communities.  There are many practical visionaries that strive against the odds of the powers and principalities that would rob us of the values of  compassion, faith and love – the qualities that make no sense in the economic rationalist ideology that has gripped most of our world’s parliaments and congresses. These holy visionaries continue to speak into the less-than-inspiring political discourse. Their sleeves are rolled up and the sweat on their brow testifies that they speak from knowledge and experience.

Long may they live and may the ears of many turn their way.

 

9 months!

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9-monthsThat’s how long it has been since I’ve scrawled on this blog. Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter, have seen more regular utterances during this time. Why? Perhaps a bit more immediate. I am usually reacting to or commenting on a stimulus that appears on social media.

Blogging, for some unknown rationale in my mind, deserves more gravitas.

So what brings me here today? Thrift! I just paid some money to keep this domain registration open. But maybe it’s time to consider again how this page can be used.

“9 months!” – this suggests a period of gestation. So what is birthing in my pilgrimage at the moment? During this time I have announced my movement towards retirement from full-time church work. It is still 21 months until this comes into effect at the end of my current contract with the church that has been our life and community for the past twenty years.

Changes will be big – finding accommodation, a new community, and satisfying tasks. A long lead time is helping as we research what can be done with limited collateral and the need to be far enough away to avoid interference yet close enough to maintain important continuing relationships.  It is exciting and scary – as is the way with all our little deaths and rebirths.

So maybe this blog will become a place to reflect on the matters that arise during this transition period.

If this is not useful to the casual reader at least it will be helpful to me!

 

At Year’s End…

From my sister in Adelaide. I somehow think my whole family’s caught up in Franciscan ambience!

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

In Between Times

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I’m at work in the church study. It is eerily quiet on a day that would normally be abuzz – the rooms full of people going about their art and craft activities, sharing stories, encouraging, commiserating, inspiring.

This is an “in-between” time – a space of silence affording me time to do a little extra thinking and writing in between the shredding, re-organising and generally tidying things up. I’m looking at the passage set for January 3rd, the final Sunday of Christmas. It’s from the Gospel of John’s prologue and moves on from the piece I wrote on this blog yesterday – see it here.

John’s Christmas story is somewhat understated if one is looking for shepherds and angels and Bethlehem. “Understatement,” however, is hardly the word that comes to mind as one ponders the “Word (Reality, Wisdom, Ground of Being) become flesh” and dwelling amongst us.

“From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” So John’s community reflects almost 100 years after the precipitating event. No trite piety here. The writer reflects a reality that is true to a community that has endured expulsion, persecution, and martyrdom that is familiar to many fleeing the Middle East today. “Fullness” and “grace” are words that still sprinkle the conversation of Orthodox Christians that have been forced from their ancient homelands.

It seems these “in-between” times are not just fallow paddocks where nothing much is happening. Beneath the soil is a lot of activity. “Fullness” and “grace” are being nurtured and are ready to flourish for those prepared to dig around and get their hands dirty.

This is where Christmas gets real!

Launch Pad

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1200px-Discovery_Launch_Pad_39AIn these days of pause where nothing much seems to happen and no-one seems to take much notice anyway, politicians introduce policies that threaten fragile environments, reduce health benefits and cut back public transport. Policies and revisions of policies are quietly launched in the hope that no-one will notice.

Something else is running quietly in the background – the Christmas season that retailers consider finished on the eve of the day it began! On this fourth day of Christmas we are given the story of another launch pad. Some call it the New Testament Genesis and it’s in John 1:1-6:

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

Every story has a counter story. Our dominant consumer-leisure driven story is pushed back by the announcement that arrives on this fourth day of Christmas. Once again we hear of the pre-existent source of radiance and life that does not succumb to darkness, desperation or despair.

In the lazy days of nothing-much that mark the Christmas/New Year in-between, this counter-story pulls me onward.

 

Continuously on the Path of Conversion.

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My colleague from across the valley messaged me this just as I was putting this post up. Thanks, Karen!

Goodness! Yesterday’s piece seems stuffy with wordiness! It comes with trying to express the inexpressible.

Let me translate. We followers of Jesus often fall into the trap of treating him as a remote figure who lived long ago and we have to reach over a huge 2000 year gap to access him. We often talk about him in the past tense. Fair enough – he occupied a place in history, living amongst his own people and inspiring a movement that flourishes to this very day.

But that’s not all – by a long shot!

We speak of the Christ – not a name, but a title. It is the Greek translation and development of the ancient Hebrew concept of Messiah – in effect, the anointed tying together of all things that are, have been and will be. It is universal, embracing all that is. Paul wrote about it a lot in the New Testament.

The early followers of Jesus invested him with this title and experienced it in his life, death, resurrection and infusion with his Spirit. Hence, we speak of Jesus the Christ (shortened to Jesus Christ). This brings the Jesus of history into the always present moment, “marinading” us in his presence. In ancient terms, we are “Christed.”

We speak it, but our understanding falls short. Then someone switches on a light, and we know it again, as if for the first time.

Here is one simple trick to increase understanding:

Try reading and meditating on John’s Gospel using the present tense!
(Thanks Alexander Shaia!)

We are continuously on the path of conversion.

Less (maybe!) stirry… more powerful!

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Time to pen some more thoughts following my previous rant here, now some months ago. Current conversations are around less controversial matters, but somewhat related in a base-line sense. How to reconcile what we can know of the historic Jesus through a self-imposed limited reading of the four Gospels with the phenomenon of the Cosmic Christ in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

The visit to this region of Alexander Shaia of Quadratos fame has lit the fire. Progressive thought has put much stake on paring back literary, cultural and historical influences in the writing of the canonical and extra-canonical Gospels to find Jesus the man in his own day-to-day context.

Shaia seeks to reclaim an alternative reading of the Gospels, in part, as an awareness of the influence of Paul’s cosmological understanding of the Christ principle – in that all things were created in, through and for the Christ, the Anointed, the Logos, the Life Principle, the Ground of All Being, the I Am Being Who I Am Being – whatever terms help us get a handle on the dynamic force which moves through all things and establishes a unity out of an incredible diversity of matter, mind and spirit.

Scholarship such as that provided by The Jesus Seminar has served us well in discerning the Jesus of history and providing insights into interpreting the Way by reading the Gospels in the light it has shed.

Shaia’s summons to reclaim Jesus in whom the Christ is proclaimed awakens the voice of the earliest Christians.

Old knowledge or cognitive dissonance for us sophisticated and enlightened pilgrims?

When it comes to living the Way, with its daily pathways of change, pain, union and mature service as taught by Jesus but empowered by the Christ that infuses one’s whole being – how do we sit with that continuous awareness? How am I practising it?

What do you think?