Having nothing; possessing all…

This morning I read an article discussing organisational risk management. It queried whether the focus is on maintaining security and safety for the organisation (or oneself) or responsibly providing channels by which its service might maximise the spirit of risk and adventure for human life to flourish.

The Apostle Paul wants life in the Corinthian church to flourish and he has risked all, even his reputation, to ensure that it happens. He points to awareness of the gift of the fullness of humanity seen in Christ as the “day of salvation” through which all else is filtered. In this way “having nothing, he possesses everything.” Now there’s a risk management policy!

Caught Out!

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Exposure and shame, particularly in high places, draw us like a magnet. The media come out for a prolonged playtime and the population stands on the sidelines, tut-tutting and shaking their heads. The more we find out the more we want to know, so that we may feel justified in pouring more burning coals on this wanton head and driving this scapegoat out into the wilderness. And so we are atoned.

Not according to Isaiah 58. The spotlight is turned back to us. Our inner darkness hits centre stage and a loud trumpet declares it to all. The mask of respectability and capability falls. There is nowhere to hide and we flee to our own wilderness. The wilderness, however, is an apt teacher. There we learn what we need to know to live responsibly and effectively with one another. There is the possibility of return to begin again. And we are on the road to shalom, even theosis.

St Valentine & Ash Wednesday – Synchronous?

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circle_of_adam_elsheimer_the_lupercalian_festival_in_rome-saint-valentine-catholic-printable-sunday-school-st-wikipedia-1024x815Some have lamented the fact that St Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday share the same space this year. Simultaneously receiving chocolates and giving them up for Lent is doing a few folk’s heads in!

Can there be anything in common with a feast celebrating romantic love and the commencement of a fast that confronts us with the sombre reality of costly sacrifice?

The original story of St Valentine combines both. He is a third-century bishop who secretly performed Christian marriage rites forbidden to Roman soldiers.  He was jailed and sentenced to execution. In the meantime, he healed the eyesight of the jailer’s daughter and wrote her a note signed “your Valentine” on the day of his execution. There was nothing romantic in any of this, but it provided visible expression of the outworking of God’s love in a man the Church eventually recognised in the tradition of her highest possible manner – canonisation.

The early church called the process of being open to transformation in such a way that reflected the love of God “theosis”. This is the purpose of Lent – to focus on disciplines that take us on the journey of theosis. It is an outer as much as an inner journey, for God’s love will always have us seeking out ways to engage the other with grace. St Valentin is only one of many exemplars, but he is a worthy figure that steps forward as devout pilgrims are “anointed” with ash today in preparation for the journey to Good Friday and beyond.

Today’s text from Joel offers the same synchronicity.

Mythic realities

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Gilgamesh-Cylinder-SealWhen we avoid the popular notion of myth as a fairytale and understand it as a means for accessing deep universal meaning that can only be conveyed in symbol and story, we are getting closer to truth.

When confronted with the world’s chaos and violence and ask “What does it all mean?” and we doggedly search for an answer, we may find ourselves in the world of ancient myth.

If we conclude that such self and other destruction is inevitable and take a fatalistic or survivalist stance we are in the middle of the epic Akkadian tale of Gilgamesh.

If we have a more hopeful outlook seasoned with a yearning for peaceful outcomes, we have landed ourselves in the covenant story of Noah alluded to yesterday.

Today, Psalm 25 acknowledges the reality of injustice but is clearly oriented to the Noah covenant.  The poet seems to be enduring considerable distress but reveals a solid confidence in being part of the relationship described by the long arc of G-d’s loving mercy and justice.

From arks to arcs

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noahs_ark_rainbowOur daily texts from Revised Common Lectionary are leading into the Season of Lent, commencing this Wednesday. Genesis 9:8-17 is the climactic postlude of the Noah story, where the ancient principle of covenant is introduced. The ark takes its place as a primary point in the Hebrew view of the “arc of the moral universe.” 

A covenant is different from a contract. It speaks of intentionality in fostering a positive relationship, even when the other party fails. Rev’d Dr Mark Hillis refers to the post-diluvian rainbow as a “bow at rest” – a laid down weapon suggesting a conjunction of the spectrum of light and the cessation of G-d’s intervention of punitive wrath.

This foundation of the covenant reveals an early theological understanding that natural disasters are not the punishment of offended gods. Rather there is an assertion of benevolent loving relationship awaiting development. This is an early and dawning awareness; the arc will yet reveal more touch points as it progresses through Hebrew and Christian history. Indeed it is meant to convey the basis of the whole human story – the Source of the Universe is best understood through a relationship that is positive and creative.

Credentials

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pexels-photo-567633A new ambassador stands before the Prime Minister and formally hands over an introductory letter sealed with the mark of his own government.

A hopeful business recruit emails her CV and academic record to a prospective employer.

A starry-eyed couple meet over coffee, swapping life stories in an effort to test the polarities of magnetism between them – will they continue to attract or will repulsion render this a one-off encounter?

There are varieties of ways for presenting credentials.

The Apostle Paul somehow does it in reverse. Having defended himself against charges of misrepresenting himself as an apostle with the authority to guide the church in Corinth, he presents his concerned hearers as his very credentials! Living witnesses to growth in Christ are all the credentials he and they require of each other! See 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Paul has a refreshing turn of phrase for cutting through conflict hiding behind formalities and red tape that bind rather than liberate!

Dreaming with Daniel

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Daniel – press-ganged into public service for the all-powerful empire.

What were his night dreams following days of soul-eating acts of policy development, implementation and administration? We get a glimpse when reading Daniel 7:9-14.

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I remember the years of ministry amongst public servants of all ranks and the agonising torment that some endured as they sought to express their calling through their work where core values were often quite difficult to discern and process.

Today, spare a thought for all who work implementing government policy, particularly those of principled faith who struggle to be true to their vocation.

Einstein, Elijah, Moses and Jesus

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr Martin Luther King

I was intrigued to hear this favourite quote linked, in a recent conversation, with Einstein’s theory of relativity and its application to satellite navigation that depends on differences in relative space and time calculations for accuracy.

As I revisit the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus converses with Elijah and Moses, three disciples are witness to a 1000 year segment of the span of the moral universe as discerned through Hebrew history and tradition and culminating in Jesus as the Christ.

MLK’s quote is often taken out of context when applied to justify political expediency. King’s vision was firmly oriented through the lens of the Christian vision of the kingdom of God, of shalom, the reign of justice in terms of love of God, neighbour, self and cosmos.

He too had been to the mountaintop and was clear on what he had seen.

Relinqishment and Succession

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As my church and  I move into the twilight zone of relinquishment of a two-decade ministry and preparation for a yet unknown successor, the story of Elijah passing his mantle on to Elishah is instructive.

Change of leadership simultaneously raises levels of anxiety and hope. Succession must be carefully managed. I am no Elijah and, as yet, we do not know who our Elisha is. One thing we do know is that change is often necessary if our effectiveness is to be the “double measure.”

This is true of any human community – be it family, church, sporting club or business enterprise. There is a reason Swiss-made luxury watches lost leadership in the world market – by deciding not to embrace the digital revolution.  And now most people use their smartphones for even more accurate time-keeping!

Change is most positively effective when managed through a proactive plan of relinquishment and succession. I am thankful that my church has had the foresight to have begun succession planning in a timely fashion.

No sweet chariot yet, but let’s enjoy Etta James as she sings: