Archives For Lament

Family_Fathers_War

Royal Navy & A.I.F, 6th Lighthorse WW1, 6th A.B.G.R.O Coy WW1, 12th Reinforcements 4th Batt WW1. Papua New Guinea WW2, Royal Australian Airforce 1950’s & Army Reseve 1980’s. (Frederick Petrie not pictured).

I have a difficult relationship with Anzac day.

Firstly, I am fond of the practice of remembrance. It reminds the Australian people of their unique narrative, and place in the world. One that we can too easily take for granted, or pound into dust via political correctness.

For those of us with forefathers who were broken by war, it can be difficult to find a pathway beyond bitterness towards grateful ownership of our own narrative.

We find ourselves busy trying to repatriate ourselves into a family, in the shadow of those who found it difficult to be repatriated.

For example: ‘when the war ended, thousands of ex-servicemen, many disabled with physical or emotional wounds, had to be re-integrated into a society keen to consign the war to the past and resume normal life’. (AWM)

A personal example of this is my Great-Great grandfather, Frederick William Petrie. He was a locomotive fireman (stoker) and a volunteer, who enlisted in December 1916, at the age of 36.

From Australia he went to France, where he became a corporal in the ‘6th Australian broad gauge railroad company’ (6th A.B.G.R.O Coy). His war record shows that he served until July, 1918. Four months before the war was officially declared over.

Frederick’s reason for discharge was because he had ‘neurasthenia’. Neurasthenia is a general condition related to ‘shell shock’. That is, he suffered from ‘severe fatigue and emotional distress’. This was more than likely brought on by the trauma of spending eighteen months  shovelling coal into the belly of a steam train moving back and forth with supplies to ‘barren and bloodied battlefields’ (King).

Although Frederick was a non-combatant, as an engineer, his support role was crucial to the allied advance and it put him in harms way where he would surely have come under fire. Usually from artillery barrages, an enemy he could not see or even anticipate.

Lt. R.J Burchell in an interview for the ‘West Australian’ in 1919 illuminates the circumstances:

‘we were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even…the furthest back station of the 4th company was under fire from the 15in guns…With both planes and guns the enemy paid systematic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realise that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Coy…had the worst of it…their section of line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy…the amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and trains carry 1000-ton loads…the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised.’
(Lt. R.J Burchell 5th coy, The West Australian, June 1919)

F.W.P returned to Australia in 1918. Petrie had difficulty readjusting to a peacetime existence.

He helped raise my Grandfather, ‘Ted’, who had joined the Australian Airforce as an aircraft fitter in the 1950’s. ‘Ted’s testimony at a court-martial indicates the difficulty imposed on families by the ongoing effects of war:

Testimony_EdwardJHO

Adding to this the representative for his defence argued that:

assessmentbythedefendinglawyer_EdwardJHO

Although I have my reservations, I refuse to ‘howl with the wolves’ (Barth) and ridicule Anzac Day, deconstructing it, in an overexcited academic orgy that decries war, the evils of Patriarchy or the evils of Western civilisation.

I simply want to state that for me and my family, along with a large portion of Australians, Anzac day forces us to confront a ‘stubborn fact – the brutally elementary data’ (Arendt cited by Elshtain, 2000, p.135), that proves: causalities of war are not only the servicemen who were thrown into it’s abyss.

There is a ripple effect and it’s causalities also include the wives, children and the generations that followed these men.

Anzac day is not about a nations ideology. Anzac day is about a nations remembrance; its humanity and its theology. This is exhibited every April when a nation makes room for healing, gratitude and the acknowledgement that, those generations directly impacted by war are not forgotten.

Anzac day allows us the room to reflect and explain to others that we bear the burden of their scars, not just the benefit of their medals.

Anzac day should affect us. If the gravity of it doesn’t force us to reflect, we will end up in an ignorance which leads us to being only one misstep away from repeating history.

This also has theological relevance. For instance, we are reminded of  James’ call to look out for the widow and the orphan (Jm.1:27), and David’s reminder that ‘God is the father of the fatherless and protector of widows’ (Ps.68:5).

The benefit of Anzac day is that it allows a nation the room to grieve collectively.

According to my family history, we are the children of soldiers. We do not carry their wounds, but we do carry their scars.

Although we share different contexts, we still feel the effects of the price they paid.

Today, there are  serious interpersonal conflicts. These are largely caused by the hidden effects of a trauma still echoing through the generations. Because this goes unacknowledged, it is like watching ripples spread out from a point of impact in my family’s history. Anzac day helps me to frame that drama in a very real context. War, although now distant, is in large part the cause of that dysfunction.

Anzac day disturbs my complacency by confronting me with the story I am handed. It reminds us that we are given the gift of choice, and the chance to not make the same mistakes.

The Anzac pilgrimage each April is a paradox of thanksgiving grounded in the dialectic outcomes of war. War disinherits. Through the sacrifice of freedom it sets up an inheritance of freedom.

War costs families. It diminishes the potential for healthy and holistic relationships. Yet it opens the door for grace, forgiveness and gratitude.

Anzac day also brings us to find some deep sense of solidarity with Jesus Christ and the cross He was crucified on. It reminds us of His resurrection (Jn.15:13), and brings, by this fact, families to a place of hope, saying that through Him they can rise from the ashes of war.

Anzac day allows each generation to move forward in courage. It allows room for people to own their stories, leaving at the foot of the cross, the psychological, spiritual, emotional and financial dysfunction that war causes.

The hope of Anzac Day is Jesus Christ. It compels us to align ourselves with the table turning Messiah (Mt.21:12),  who, through His Spirit, is constantly at work in ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, even when we don’t see it.

It is here that we can catch our breath and find hope among the ashes.

#LestWeForget.


References (not otherwise linked):

Elshtain, J.B 2000 ‘Who are we?: Critical reflections and hopeful possibilities Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Unlike greed, lies, abuse and false claims,

Rain falls and doesn’t stain.

Lord, through grace,

As we call upon you in repentance.

Teach us to grasp tenderness;

To build upon it a reflection of your just benevolence.

Gardenia1

Here’s a thought that I repeat here with prayer-filled sigh and grateful amen.

working theory

If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of exile, knowing that you were ransomed from futile ways inherited from your forefathers’

(1.Pet.1:18 ESV)

 

 

I was working through a theological reflection today. As I was doing so I couldn’t help but reflect on a conversation between my wife and I earlier this morning. We were discussing the prodigal, his brother and why the church seems to “celebritize” the prodigals at the risk of ignoring the many faithful brothers or sisters. For context, my wife identifies with the brother and I identify more with the prodigal.

The first part of our discussion was centered on when the church inadvertently celebrates loss. This happens when the church celebrates a story of pain and heartbreak, because of the significance of the event. E.g.: the person is idolized. Such a celebration of negative life experiences can wrongly push people into becoming an ‘elite spiritual aristocracy…that claims ‘special gnosis (knowledge)’ (Peterson 2005:61). Conversely this could also lead to a false theological understanding about what it means to be a Christ-follower.Even though narratives full of despair, brokenness and scandal are worth sharing, they are never cause for jubilation. At least this has been the reality of my experience . For example: ‘It sucks’ (to use the urban meaning) to stand before people and tell them about the abuse and mistreatment I have experienced.

To share painful memories with others is painful and risky to do. However, testimony should energize dialogue. This is because sharing identifies each of us with the ‘suffering community which is the sacramental community’ (Chan 1998, p.113). The circumstances which lead to renewal are not something to be envyed, used for entertainment or plated in gold. They are circumstances which are to be mourned and grieved. In my view any expression of church which unwittingly places the prodigal, or the broken and their story above other brothers and sisters,  absolutizes their pain, ignores the power of lament and betrays a healthy sense of pastoral care.

Instead our celebration should be wasted on the God  ‘who created a way of life out of this chaos and misery, countered death, breathed life into creation and creatures’ (Peterson 2005:24).Our painful stories are significant, they are stories that need to be heard, not worshipped. Otherwise our focus remains squarely on the cross, consequently we are barely able to move our focus from it to the resurrected Christ. He is able to recognize us in the midst of the twisted mess of anxiety, fear, feelings of worthlessness and rejection. By restraining ourselves from worshipping the story we move past the ‘infrastructures of consumerism’ (Brueggemann 1993, 2:II), towards being like Christ, where we can recognize each other in the midst of their own stories.

This makes room for an equal, authentic and honest witness: After all ‘we are approved by God entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts’ (1. Thess. 2:4 ESV).The church should lament. They should rejoice and weep (Jn. 11:35 ESV) with the prodigal, whilst not ignoring the stories of the quiet faithful ones, who stand steadfast in the background. Otherwise the Church caresses the pain and poor choices by popularising them, proving that they do so only in order to fund street cred and feed antidotes to nominalism.

Bruggemann on the Psalms of disorientation

Bibliography:

Brueggemann, W. 1993 The bible and post-modern Imagination, Fortress press MN, USA
Chan, S. 1998 Spiritual theology InterVarsity Press Downers Grove IL
Peterson, E. 2005 Christ plays in ten thousand places Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing Co.

Fallin

May 8, 2013 — 1 Comment

Walter Bright


There you go again… you did it.
You promised God that it will never happen again.
But there you go again… dealing, sniffing, lusting, gossiping.
You told yourself it was all over.
But there you go again… angry, grumpy envious, sensual.
You have fallen.

Well, it is not okay, but it’s okay.
“Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.”
So get up!
Commit again…
Try again…

Quote: Chinese Proverb
Video: Trip, born William Lee Barefield III

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In the previous post, I introduced my topic and briefly outlined the context from which I write. Part two will conclude with a format that follows along IMG_20130506_165144similar lines.

‘The Naked Christian’ presents itself as a critical incident report that follows the protocols of theological reflection. What could be rightly termed as ”Borlase’s lament”, presents a convincing case for dropping self-serving prefixes such as ‘on-fire, post-evangelical, born-again and instead be content to simply be a Christian’ (pp.26-27). Therefore, ‘The Naked Christian’ is NOT a rant about the church. Alternatively, Borlase takes to task those expressions of church which are dangerously close to being, ‘too heavenly minded to do any earthly good’ (p.166). He cautiously walks between the polarising extremes of ‘the small-minded paranoia associated with the selfishly negative, and the free flowing DIY spirituality connected with the mindlessly positive’ (pp.137, 166 & 173).

Now, before you begin to think that I am recruiting you for membership in the Craig Borlase fan club, allow me to delicately lay out before you two significant limitations to his conclusions.

Firstly, although Borlase rightly identifies the churches’ problems with overreaction and indifference, some of the relevant-at-the-time material within ‘The Naked Christian’ is now not as relevant.  Take for example, the positive impact social media has had on the churches ability to connect with people both publically and privately, in their homes and work et.al. This answers part of the problems identified by Borlase, surrounding the churches tendency to place ritual-over-relationship. (The caveat here is of course that there is also a case, for how this makes ‘The Naked Christian’ even more relevant. I just think that in this particular area the positive, by far, out-ways the negative).

Another limitation related to this is that Borlase highlights what he calls, Jesus’ ‘radical acceptance’ (p.118) and ‘inclusion of all’ (p.151). Borlase gives only small consideration to the fact that, quite often the events were accompanied by people motivated to reverse their lifestyle. The New Testament records that the people who came into contact with Jesus were literally, never the same again. For example: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus and Paul.

The problem this highlights for the church today is that Jesus confronted sin on a relational level. This lead to the admonishment ‘go and sin no more’. He provided and communicated an alternative way out. How can the Church do this effectively, when a large portion of Western society today views disagreement as disrespect? Which is closely associated with the tendency to ridicule the church into submission and silence it, through accusations of bigotry and hate speech. How does the church engage as Borlase describes, when it is deliberately being forced (now sometimes legally) to disengage?

Secondly, ‘The Naked Christian’ tends to downplay the importance of solitude and periods of isolation that are useful for nurturing faith. Ergo spiritual disciplines are not addressed. Having said this, it is important to note that Borlase does acknowledge the importance of order. For instance: ‘with no structure in place there would be a real threat of directionless wandering’ (p.164).However, he does not elaborate on how spiritual disciplines, such as solitude, fit within his critique of the church.Sometimes distancing ourselves from a particular context or relationship is necessary and beneficial.

The strength of Borlase’s work is that it is a theological quest ‘for balance’ (p.167). The definition of a ‘Naked Christian’ is an ‘authentic’ (p.64) Christ-follower who advocates a thinking faith, over against an ‘airhead Christianity…that preferences emotion over understanding’ (pp.154 & 159). Speaking from his own experience, Borlase seeks to raise awareness about the ‘good vs. bad logic that wrongfully underpins our ideas of Church vs. world’ (p.137, emphasis mine); or in other words the false dichotomy between secular and sacred (p.110).

Borlase is right to do this because it counters the dehumanizing, results-over-relationship culture that hinges on the buy and sell transactional nature of relationship. This is something which should rightly be an anathema to the church. For example: the church should ‘treat people as loved by God instead of targets (numbers) for Christian mission’ (p.85). In order to do this Borlase encourages the Church to bring ‘the world into focus’ (p.109)…stating that

Christianity is about relationship not ritual’ (pp.137 & 166)…‘If we run away at the first sign of bad feelings, if we have failed to equip ourselves with a knowledge of God and if we only value the big spiritual event, then we run the risk of missing out on some absolutely vital parts of our relationship with God’ (pp.163-165).

This is reflected in what Karl Barth means when he speaks of the ‘bourgeois’. What he meant was (predominantly white) middle class Christianity (Gorringe 1999, p.8)[2]. This works for a valid explanation of my own broad experience of the Australian Church. IMG_20130505_223258I attended a Catholic primary school, was baptised in a Pentecostal church, attended an ecumenical Christian secondary school and was married in the same Anglican Church I was christened in. As a teenager I was forced by my, loving but, recently divorced mother to attend every Sunday service, shifting between two wealthy charismatic Churches. I was a volunteer announcer at a Christian radio station that prided itself on only playing ‘Christian music’, along with managing a Christian bookstore, and now I’m studying a double degree at an ecumenical tertiary college.

All these paradigms of ecclesia have shown me that every ‘metaphor’ (Jensen & Wilhite 2010, Loc.276) of church has strengths and limitations[3]. Therefore I am sympathetic to the statement that ‘the church is yet to be defined’ (Jenson & Wilhite 2010, Loc.322) beyond being an ‘invisible (mystical) and visible reality (institutional, sacramental, herald and servant’ (2010, loc.722).

When serious thinkers like Karl Barth speak of a ‘bourgeois’ Christianity the subtext conceals a witty caveat. It is a warning against becoming a ‘narcissistic subculture…or so culturally relevant that we no longer have anything to say to the culture. Instead of having a transforming influence on it, we run the risk of fusing with it’ (Morgenthaler 1995, p.137).

This has largely been my experience of the church. For the most part it has been a negative one and resembles the song ‘I’ve been everywhere man’. For example: I was a Protestant in the Catholic paradigm, come from a welfare dependant family who were Anglican, yet were attending a wealthy charismatic Pentecostal Church. I was a deeply troubled teen constantly wrestling with trying to reconcile the Christianity I was seeing with the Christianity I was hearing about from within my ecumenical, secondary Christian school milieu.

In sum, I was an accidental prodigal who didn’t fit the criteria, and was part of the ‘odd and vulnerable, showing their scars and wounds to a watching church’ (Borlase 2001, p.131), who seemed unwilling to invite participation without demanding doctrinal assimilation. My fumbling attempts to live out of my confession that Jesus Christ is Lord of my life made me unwanted. This led to those Christians I was in contact with not taking my salvation seriously, simply because I wasn’t at the latest conference, wearing the latest slogan or showing off a ‘spiritual six-pack’ (p.132). Borlase is right to ask: what would happen if ‘the life of the church gathered, was brought into contact with the life of the church scattered’ (p.49 emphasis mine)?

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Available @ Amazon

Throughout 2002, God used this book to turn my anger and frustration with His church, into understanding and compassion. Throughout the many years since this has transformed my negative experiences into a love for authentic church as being, not just doing. We are called into the church by Jesus the Christ as being and doing. We are not called to play the role of church by seeming to be doing.

My intention here has been to share how this book has impacted my faith. It has done so by encouraging me to see that the church is much bigger than we can be trapped into think it is. What makes this book special is that Borlase challenged my embedded theology. It encouraged me to not only ‘test everything…but to hold fast to what is good’ (1 Thess.5:21).

In a similar way, Borlase’s message motivates the church by encouraging us to move beyond  ‘smug complacency’ (p.89 – the ”meh” culture), disappointment, offense and despair. He points us towards responsible action, devoid of Christianese and its dangerously decontextualized cousin, who appears briefly from behind closed doors[4] in order to safely evangelise, solely in the form of slogans, bumper stickers and memes. The good news is that Jesus is not bound by doors closed for fear of retribution, rejection and ridicule (Jn.20). Neither should we be.

The church cannot hide from the world and its temptations because ‘the Church…is the world conscious of its need’  (Karl Barth cited by Gorringe,1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony p.63)[5].

Bibliography

Borlase, C. 2001 The Naked Christian, Hodder and Stoughton London
Cash, J, No earthly good Johnny Cash: Personal Files Available @ iTunes and Amazon
Gorringe, T.J. 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press Inc. New York NY, USA
Jenson, M & Wilhite, D 2010 the Church: A guide for the perplexed T & T Clark International London
Morganthaler, S. 1995 Worship Evangelism: inviting unbelievers into the presence of God, Zondervan Publishing house Grand Rapids, MI, USA

If you are interested in reading some other works from Craig Borlase, I  recommend ‘God’s gravity’ and highly recommend ‘William Seymour’.


[1] Quote is attributed to Brene Brown, 2010,  ‘the gifts of imperfection’ Hazelden
[2] Bourgeois is defined as self-reliance, religion for example: ‘Humanity itself is comfortably established, life was based upon a firm foundation, economically and politically solid and secured by reliable moral principles. This bourgeois character and its piety is strongly orientated ethically and hence is determined by human conduct. Humanity knows what is good and righteous and can achieve it by his own unaided efforts’ (Keller, 1933).
[3] Keller is right to say that ‘Barthianism is a picture of our religious situation inasmuch as it portrays the dissatisfaction of the church with itself, the self-contradiction which results as soon as it orientates itself by its God-given commission and not by its cultural requirements’ (Keller 1933, pp.37-38)
[4] Terry Crist, ‘Learning the language of Babylon’
[5] Jensen and Wilhite make the statement that ‘separation is foreign to the church’ (2010, loc.2433)… ‘It seems the acme of enmity to distinguish the church from the world…To call ourselves the church, then call everyone else the world suggests that `we’ are better than `they’. It is a subtle form of self-justification’ (2010, loc.2241)…’The church exists for the world’ (2010, loc.2253)…the world is not only `them’; it is also (and first) `us’. Nor can the church’s word of antagonism be a final one. The church is finally for the world not against it, because its King under whose reign it lives is finally for the world (2010, Loc.2268).(Rom.5:8)

Anzac Day, 2013

April 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

Right or wrong, ninety-eight years ago, Legacy Anzac DayAustralian and New Zealand troops, joined their British and Indian allies, in a Commonwealth assault on the beaches and cliffs of the Dardanelle straits. This was part of a Commonwealth war effort to open up a third front, in the hope breaking the stalemate in France during World War One. Along with other serious conflicts Australia has been involved in throughout the 20th century, today we commemorate that event . In addition, we take the time to remember the danger of ideology, the cost, complexity and brutality of war.