We had most of the group end of year breakups last week. Just one or two to go in the next day or so. (For those north of the equator, the combination down under of summer holidays, Christmas and New Year makes for six weeks of what we call the silly season – don’t worry, we’re back to normal about the last week of January). Once the break-ups have occurred, my calendar suddenly begins to look very empty. There is momentary relief from what can develop at times to be a grinding schedule. But, ahhh – now – a chance to catch up on some reading, a bit of writing, maybe even clearing away some filing and tidying up a little. But no! The demons of chaos descend, attracted by the vast emptiness of the Outlook calendar. Urgent administrative appointments, papers set aside for “later” and that should have been signed off two weeks ago, and a range of organisational trivia break the dam and flood the waking hours to bursting. Truth is – all this was there all the time. Routine intimidated the important but not urgent and it all kept its distance. But now it is taking insistent opportunity and declaring its urgency, and the days to Christmas are full. Just as well I’m taking a couple of weeks’ leave in the New Year!
Ever have some odd quirky thing from years ago that sticks in your mind that you can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you try?
One of mine is a segment from a Rem and Stimpy cartoon – inevitably triggered when I hear the word “joy”. Perhaps because I have been in so many circumstances where an MC has attempted to force-feed “joy” on a passive-aggressive audience. Here’s the clip for those who dare!
Joy that is artificially manufactured is like a stone being skipped across the surface of a pond. Joy that is deep and real often emerges out of a season of yearning and anticipation.
We live in a time where refugees and homeless seek a place to call safe, where many unemployed face an empty Christmas table, and the mentally ill seek a moment or two of sanity. Here there is yearning. When hope has not vanished entirely, there is anticipation and the possibility of joy. Such hope often rests on something good remembered and an entertainment of the possibility it may yet recur.
The Psalm for this third week of Advent reflects the dynamic. It is a song of ascent – meaning it was sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem as they approached the Temple.
Times are pressing, the latter verses of the psalm suggest hardship due to drought and poor harvest, maybe even a season of duress under tyranny. The opening lines, however, recall and virtually re-live an occasion of being “surprised by joy”. Their despairing ancestors, captive and exiled in Babylon for several generations, are released and allowed to go home in freedom when the Persian king Cyrus invades and subjugates Babylon. So great is their deep happiness that Isaiah speaks of their pagan deliverer as “God’s anointed.” Unexpected yet remembered in messianic terms. The psalm implores God to “do it again.”
Perhaps the temple pilgrims anticipated a reconnection with the grounding of their faith through the temple rites, something that would help them face an uncertain future with confidence and purpose. By remembering unexpected encounters with the divine celebrated by their ancestors, they could live out the anticipation of their own liberation.
If this kind of joy does that, it is a true gift.
Free spirit that I am, I took some time out for a cinema fix after a busy week. Mrs WP was otherwise occupied, so it was a lone choice, and it boiled down to either The Iron Lady or The Ides of March. What a dilemma! Both portray political dramas and the machinations behind the scenes – the first focused on the conservative Thatcher years in ’70s Britain and the second on a fictional but contemporary Democrat campaign in Ohio, apparently a benchmark state in the primaries for presidential election.
Because of the currency of the 2012 USA elections, I chose The Ides of March, hoping to gain some insight to the mysteries of the USA election system. I confess I remain as mystified as ever, and perhaps in Pollyannish naivety, wonder if the cynicism and duplicity in which the plot is soaked was used for dramatic effect or, reverting to my nay-saying shadow side, fighting the evidence that often shouts at us on a daily basis, “Yep, that’s the way it is.” Pragmatism usurps loyalty; expediency trumps ideals, political survival smothers ethics, both personal and public.
Will The Iron Lady convey something different? I sense another cinema event occurring soon.
- Movie Review: Ides of March (socyberty.com)
It may strike one as absurd that a day given to reflecting on peace revolves around that fiery wild figure that stormed out of the Judaean desert preaching repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist seems an incongruous figure for what we imagine to be peace – serene narcosis wrapped in fluffy cotton wool where the daily grind can’t “get at us.”
Consider the elements of true peace however, based on the Semitic languages shalom (Hebrew) or salaam (Arabic and its derivatives), alluding to wholeness in relationship with self, others, the environment and the Divine. It seems to me that one has to navigate some conflict to achieve each of those summits.
Well known New Testament scholar Bill Loader, at the local Uniting Church commissioning service for their local minister, noted three surprises in Mark’s use of the John the Baptist episode to open his discussion of what the “good news” of Jesus was all about. I summarise and paraphrase, hopefully accurately, his points as I heard them. But go here for Bill’s online commentary on this passage.
First, there is the lack of apocalyptic judgement often associated with John the Baptist’s ministry. Change is in the wind, people are being called to change, but the use of Isaiah’s words are couched in the language and context of comfort and strength. The world is full of people bearing a heavy weight of oppression , poverty and injustice, but change is possible and imminent.
The second surprise is the universality of John the Baptist’s message. All are invited to the baptism he offers – poor and rich, sick and well, Jew and Greek, peasant and soldier. There is no particularity, the invitation to change is for all. It begins with “repentance”, literally “turning to face a new direction,” or we might think of starting again with a blank page. The word used by Mark is metanoia (Koine Greek) “renewing of the mind”.
The third surprise is the incompleteness of his ministry – forgiveness is a beginning, but completeness comes with one who baptises with the Holy Spirit and who demonstrates the presence of God’s reign amongst us through the ministry of the Spirit. Those who wear the name of Christ must get past acting as if it was only about forgiveness and get on with the Spirit ministry of teaching, reconciling, healing and helping build a world that is whole.
It sounded to me a little bit like shalom, salaam, peace.
As International Day of People with Disability is marked today, this slogan resonated. Pretty well most of my life, folk with a “disabilty” have been part of my close circles – family, friends, community groups – ranging through developmental disorders, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, autism and many other labels that tend to isolate fellow human beings as “special.” Thankfully, society has moved a long way from hiding those who are markedly different from the mainstream and the shared value of integration is much more widely championed than before. But we still have a long way to go.
For a start, the word “normal” should be banned! I don’t know what it is.
I have been stunned at the number of occasions service providers have bandied this term around, because I’m sure they can’t define it either. The best have focused on the abilities the sufferers of various conditions have been able to manifest and built a way forward on those. They pay due attention to what is there, a major corrective to what is lacking. Any of us would realise the defeat in the constant remider of our deficiencies. Recognition of our efficiencies on the other hand, gives us a leg up in dealing with what we lack.
The people in my circles have contributed a great gift, the ability to see things from perspectives not available to the otherwise fully endowed. Forced by circumstance and prejudice to make their way through life, they have a wry “can-do” attitude that is prepared to exercise some pretty herculean tasks. Lateral thinking in meeting challenges is often second nature. Often the poverty induced capacity to enjoy simple pleasures is a lesson for all of us rampant consumers.
So when I see someone bearing a placard that says “Don’t dis my ability!”, I have a hunch I know where they’re coming from.
It was a simple question.
I gave a simple answer – “The same as anybody else,” I replied.
There was a question behind the question, however. As the topic of same-sex marriage rises to be the star turn at this weekend’s Australian Labor Party conference, anxious attention from both the anti and pro camps tests the waters for support. I have continued to maintain a mugwump’s perspective, described a few months ago here. I might elaborate further, however, and say that anybody within the sphere of our congregation’s influence who experiences discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation is entitled to our advocacy. No mugwumpery in that regard.
The unasked question, though, is “What will you do when a gay couple asks you to officiate over their union ceremony (whatever nomenclature is granted or not)?”
I will do as I have often done with those who have shared the uniqueness of their journeys through a variety of circumstances that cover the range of life’s disappointments, hopes, fears, and possibilities. Listen carefully (with the ears of the crucified and risen One) and respond accordingly. As with hetero couples, the result may be “Wait.” It may equally be, “Let us design a rite that honours before God where you find yourself to be.” I have no idea where that might lead. I do know that our congregation is mature enough and confident enough to hold such couples and individuals in their journey with respect, love and compassion -and, as with anyone, make room for them to become full participating members of the church community.
How do I know? I’ve see it happen before.
- PM under pressure over gay marriage push (news.smh.com.au)
- ALP delegates accept gay marriage petition (news.smh.com.au)