Archives For December 2013

This Tree

December 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Blog_New_Year2014Post

This tree.

The trees which surround it.

Unique in its silence.

‘Planted by water’[i]

‘Finding strength’ after fire[ii]

Repeating hope by reflection through a forest darkened by embers.

Growing upwards in rescue.

Unhindered despite the appearance, moving towards ‘newness of life’[iii]

Ah.

This tree.

[i] Ps.1:3 [ii] Is.57:10 [iii]  Rom.6:5/Eph.4:17-32

In 2014 may hope find you.

May faith, humility and reason all guide you,

as God’s grace is found to be completely embracing you.

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©RL2013

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This time of year is particularly difficult for those with family who are absent or who feel as though they don’t belong. Christmas can be seen as unfair, an unwelcome reminder of too much disappointment. The dreaded time of year when more salt is added to already aggravated, yet-to-heal wounds. When Christmas eve is spent ringing sometimes hostile and estranged family members to at least, albeit at a safe distance, meet and greet them in the hope that this year wounds will heal as prayers are answered.

Even in this reflection, I find that my longing to fit in where I think I belong is confronted by a new belonging, if it isn’t replaced by it completely. In the midst of this encounter I am reminded that I cannot remain absent in places where I have been given an invitation to be present.

This is because belonging when you don’t belong is a unique attribute of a Christian gathering, particularly pertinent at Christmas.

This idea lingers in the storylines of movies which narrate to us the wisdom that says our worth and identity exist outside of our possessions, work and social status. The music at this time of year reminds us of a homecoming even if the house or the family in it are not, or were not originally ours.

The gift of the gathering is to be recognised by those of us who encounter more sorrow than merriment during Christmas. Presuming that the gathering is an authentic gathering, we will discover, if we care to admit it, something special – unique. The bitter disappointment that enters your entire being; the taste of fallen Christmas’ past are slowly eroded by the loving merriment of those who were once strangers. An emptiness filled over time by people who consider your presence the most important present of all.

As time goes by, the echo of this response leaves memories that are generally filled with more Merry than “Meh-rry”. It is untidy at times and not perfect, but it is healthy, joyful and genuine.

Something, or rather someone who grasps us, even as we are gasping, trying to smile and not entertain thoughts about where ones own side of the extended family are this time of year.

Your heart may feel like it is being squeezed into your throat, but thankfully the sensation passes, even if the questions and contrasts increase the sense of inferiority and displacement. The pain of isolation and abandonment is not cancelled out or discounted by this strange, new belonging; rather it is answered by it.

This discovery uncovers lives grounded upon the reconciliation between God and humanity. We find ourselves in a different, strange and unique place of acceptance, a place where we belong even if we don’t truly think we do.

Out of the gathering we are reminded of the theological position that states, in Jesus the Christ we understand that our reconciliation with God happens through his movement towards us  – the answer to the paradox that we belong even though we don’t belong is exemplified by Paul Tillich’s imperative to ‘accept that you are accepted[i]’.

It may be only once a year, but in the gathering the melancholic and the introvert finds the gift of acceptance, the gift of being present, of being around people he or she doesn’t feel they even belong being around. It is then up to the melancholic and the introvert to respond. To accept that they are accepted if it is safe enough to do so.

This kind of gathering is a gift. The wonderful knowledge that being present is itself received as a gift.

This kind of belonging is driven by the acceptance of, and invitation to, those who don’t belong by those that do.

Men and women who may fail to understand the significance of your reticent manner, but still acknowledge that you’re being present is a worthwhile gift; a selfless offering made in spite of the pain, the brokenness and sorrow. In spite of the emptiness and the clear absence of anyone directly related to you.

This encounter with a new belonging cannot be purchased; neither does its impact dissolve into the atmosphere once the event has come to a close.

During Christmas and New Year, busyness and distraction are temptations too easily agreed to. However, agreeing to these only enable negative patterns of anxiety avoidance.

Alternatively accepting the invitation to gather lovingly confronts a soul-filled with sorrow by the gentle reminder that you will find less solace in the solitude of a glass of wine, than in a Christ led crowd of forty plus people who are genuinely pleased that you made the effort to show up. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20, ESV)

Perhaps this might coincide with Paul’s reminder to the Church in Rome, as a potential reminder to us that we:

‘did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons (and daughters) by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Paul, Rom.8:15, ESV)


[i] Tillich, P. 1952 The Courage To Be Yale University Press p.164
[ii] Video: [Official] Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong from the album Meteora available @ itunes

I hope that your Christmas and all it involved this year was a good one, or at least as good as it could be.

Allow me to ‘draw‘ your attention to something that I discovered on YouTube a few days ago: C.S Lewis Doodle. Each video goes for around 10 minutes-plus.

Granted, compared to most YouTube videos this is a little long.

Don’t let that detract you from checking them out. The entire presentation flows well due to some very creative drawings which are used to interpret the text being narrated. There are six in the series so far, with new content added regularly.

Christmas is Here

December 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Advent days 23-24: God is present

Merry Christmas1


Image: Created with Picmonkey

Walking past our computer last night I saw my daughter working away at something. I walked closer and discovered her designing a nativity scene using the standard “paint” software found on most computers.

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Image: ‘Nativity’ AGL2013

The artwork was of her own making, straight from her heart utilising gifts and developing skills we are yet to teach her.

It reminded me that the advent season is a journey that involves both movement and anticipation. Lesson and learning.

God teaches us because He loves us. He chooses to reaches out to us because He wants to be near us.

The march from the advent-outhouse to Golgotha is sign-posted by the Christ mass (for Catholics); the Christ Passion (for Protestants). The Christ march is for our celebration. Such a celebration is to be ‘marked by the forgiveness of sins and the cry of joy that Jesus is the Victor!’[i] Christ is at once ‘God’s judgement and God’s compassion’ (Dickson & Clarke, 2007:116).

It is not about marking an eve of devastation, but the eve of destruction and subsequent restoration, whereby God takes His rightful place in our lives. Today is a day when all earthly authority which stands as its own supreme authority is put on notice. A time when they are reminded that what little authority they have is borrowed, if not, only delegated to them.

Such a theology is not about empty, deluded triumphalism. Rather it is about understanding that because of the living God, the world is living in the light of Jesus the Christ. Creation groans, we are told, and is experiencing in ever greater events the dawn of His physical return. The Holy Spirit seeks to reconcile you and me, the time of grace is now, present.

Karl Barth wrote:

The ‘Christian message is an historical truth…not one truth among others; it is the truth. In thinking of God, we have from the beginning to think of the name of Jesus Christ, the unity of God and man, by being an historical truth which became real at that time and place, is no transitory truth…To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost.
God is not an ideological imaginary friend. If we look at the covenant which God has really concluded with humanity, then we know that it is not so. God on high is really near to us in the depths. God is present.’[ii]

I agree with Barth when he says that ‘to celebrate Christmas is to see salvation’[iii].

This act relates to us the truth as it penetrates all kinds of un-forgiveness, absent apology, broken recollection and insecure reflection.

Right here, at this time of year we are confronted in Jesus Christ by the God of the exodus who still ‘has a future for His creation. That this future is somehow intrinsically related to the mission of Christ and the intention of God in raising him from the dead’(Moltmann)[iv]

Post-script:

It is Christmas eve. The summer heat over the past three days is breaking as a cool southern wind brings clouds and cooler days. The sky although grey, is full of promise. Today’s post will mark my 200th contribution to theo-blogosphere. I write in order to express a ‘faith which seeks understanding’ (Anselm of Cantebury). My conversation partners on this journey are people who held, and hold on to such an understanding.The Living God invites us to this conversation. I hope, at least, my attempts in responding have been far more than just a “dinner and a show”.

Whether you be a weary traveller or an energetic pilgrim, I thank you for reading my ramblings this far.

Jesus is Victor!

 


[i] Barth, K. 1933 the Epistle to the Romans Oxford University Press, London , p.312
[ii] Barth, K.1947 Dogmatics in Outline SCM Classics pp.60-62
[iii] Barth, K. Sermons
[iv] Moltmann, J 1965 Theology of Hope SCM Press,  p.180

Advent days 20-22:

Leathen Comradeinwhite_ChristWW1

Christmas Day 1915.

‘By Christmas there was a widespread popular sense for a thoroughgoing reconciliation in no-man’s land. What had happened at Christmas in 1914 was the needful precedent. It was a sort of playful legend in the army. On Christmas Day there would be a going over and a shaking of hands and exchange of souvenirs and drinks. Both sides looked forward to it.

But the authorities evidently thought it dangerous. Orders to the effect that there should be no fraternisation were sent out, and a staff-officer here and there spent Christmas Eve in the trenches to see that the orders were carried out. He could not however effect very much…At dawn therefore parties went over, and whole battalions might have followed them had not the artillery at once set up a barrage. It was found also that sentries on both sides had been ordered to fire. Some obeyed, some did not. Meanwhile the troops about Neuve Chapelle and Aubers got across in large bodies. Even on the Guards’ front men risked their lives to shake hands. Did not one thus lose his life that morning!

There is a little old cemetery by the side of the road a mile or so from Laventie, and there lie prominently side by side two corporals of the Sixth Black Watch (Newell and Willis) and behind their graves is that of a certain Sergeant Oliver[i] who perished on Christmas Day…On all graves are weeds except on that of the man who gave his life to shake hands on Christmas Day’[ii].

There are some parallels here that meet with the Christ story. For instance light dawns on a dark day and is quickly extinguished.

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Source: Paul Fussell 1974:138 Oxford Uni Press, Schweizer illustriete Zeitung; The “Comrade in White”.

Similar to the authorities attempts to extinguish Jesus, soldiers on both sides of the trenches in World War One rose to match hope with peace, and experienced attempts by earthly authorities to extinguish their efforts.

They rose out of the trenches in spite of direct opposition and gifted us with a bewildering example of faith, courage and humanity.

We are told by Matthew that Joseph is warned in a dream about the possible act of infanticide. Carried out by a ruler who, after speaking with ‘wise men from the East’, feared the possibility of prophetic fulfilment. Fearing that a boy in Bethlehem ‘had been born’ (Mt.2:2, ESV) and that He would be a challenge to Herod’s authority. In a violent act of suppression, Herod, like Pilot not only becomes a key historical character, his actions also indicate how serious the socio-political nature of the event was perceived. The point is that the prophetic fulfilment was so intensely anticipated, that a ruler would eventually go to great lengths in order to undermine and eliminate a child:

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt.2:13, ESV)

In 1945 C.S Lewis, himself a World War One survivor,  preached these words:

Christ has risen, and so we shall rise[iii]… To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that…The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that a corner has been turned…It remains for us to follow or not, to die in this cosmic winter, or to go into that spring and that summer… I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders.’[iv]

The difference between the soldiers in those trenches and Jesus Christ, is that in Him, God reaches out to us for more than just a moment of peace.

God’s eternal handshake with humanity is the gift given in the incarnation of His son Jesus the Christ. The effort he made marks the landscape of Christmas.

In Jesus Christ  God reveals Himself as God for us; His Word become flesh.

This event is the advent. That God became man and dwelt among us, is present with us in the Holy Spirit, and will be physically present with us at a future time determined by God.

He seeks a dwelling place with humanity. We read that:

“He will dwell with them, they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…I am making all things new” (Rev.21:3-4).

Resurrection is God’s doing, God’s empowering. In reflections during advent we discover that rise, rising, and being risen are key theological concepts within a holistic advent reflection. In what theologians call Christology, we encounter the anticipation of the future-event based on the past-event. Christ becomes the fulfilment of promise. The end is established in order to begin. Since resurrection is a gospel proclamation of liberation, the word rise is a  theme not to be isolated or boxed into Easter reflections alone.

May the events of Christmas 1914 & 1915 be a strong reminder to us that even in the grip of tragedy; wisdom, reconciliation, mercy and justice are themes with deep roots in the significance of the Christ-mass – traces of the Saviour’s influence.

May they not be forgotten.

Sources:


[i] Fussel, P. 1974 The Great War and Modern Memory Oxford University Press, p.309
[ii] Graham, S. 1921 The Challenge of the Dead Cassell and Company, Ltd London sourced 22nd December 2013 from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40507/40507-h/40507-h.htm
[iii] 1 Cor. 15:20
[iv] Lewis, C.S, 27 April 1945 Sermon: The Grand Miracle in Lewis, C.S. 2000 Essay Collection HarperCollins Publishers, p.9

RL2013

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Source: Official Site

Kind of taking a diversion from advent reflections and popping this post in as a “heads-up”.

I am interested in the position of theology as a critique of ideology. Theology maintains that ideology serves rather than is served by humanity. I.e.: ideology makes a terrible master and theology keeps it in it’s place – or is supposed to when not being surrendered to ideology. It is not a perfect fit, but this forthcoming movie seems to feed into that area of interest.

From the trailer, the film version of the {Monuments Men} story looks like a good mix of action, comedy, and history. I presume that Bill Murray and John Goodman add some depth and comedic experience. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill) and Cate Blanchet (LOTR, Elizabeth,The Aviator) bring in a classy sense of British/Australian sophistication. Clooney and Damon no doubt bring the action. Making this film, by all appearances, something to look out for and forward to.

The film is set for release in February 2014.

For me, the stand out line from the trailer was:

“If you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements”

Links:

Official site {movie}: http://www.monumentsmenmovie.com/site/

Official site {information/resources}: http://www.monumentsmen.com/

{no payment of any kind was received to post this}

Gracious Giving

December 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Advent day 19: A True Story

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