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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gate of the Year

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This post was originally published on The Trad Pad on  2 January 2011.  Happy New Year everyone ... particularly to those who did it tough this year.  Please take on board the thoughts of Minnie Louise Haskins
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Happy New Year! May the year be kind to you and bring you blessings, wisdom, peace, and prosperity!  The last day or two has exhibited some coincidence. Firstly, Hay Quaker published, in toto, the poem The Gate of the Year by Minnie Louise Haskins.
Minnie Louise Haskings - The gate of the year
 Minnie Louise Haskins
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"
So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night.
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.
So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.
Perhaps readers have heard this poem, or part of it, before.  It was made famous by the Christmas Speech of King George VI delivered in 1939.  You can hear the actual speech – it is quite moving given it is made at the time of the first Christmas of World War II – here.
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Secondly, I decided to get out of the house for the first time since  Christmas Midnight Carols and Eucharist at All Saints, Mitcham and go to see the much lauded movie, The King’s Speech. It is the story of the relationship between the Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, and King George VI.


The movie is being tipped as a frontline contender for an Oscar. In spite of competition from The Social Network in the bookies’ odds as set out here, it is hard to see how this movie could lose with its high proportion of former Academy Award winning actors.  The UK still produces the best actors – particularly in ensemble work as demonstrated in The King’s Speech – in the English speaking world.  However, it does an Australian heart good – particularly one coming from Queensland – to see and hear Geoffrey Rush mixing it admirably with such a talented cast. To think, this great man of Australian movies was growing up across Brisbane from me in the 1950s!
Those sitting around me in the packed movie theatre were clearly as impressed as I. 
I was however surprised at the ending. I don’t think, in such an historical movie, it is giving away much to describe the ending of this movie.  I thought the movie somehow would finish with the 1939 Christmas Speech. This is arguably the most famous, most remembered, and most quoted of all the King George VI’s speeches.  This doesn’t happen.  The movie concludes with the King’s Speech at the beginning of World War II.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children bearing the cost of politics and war: the Holy Innocents and a Peace Procession

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Many Christians think that Jesus did not enter into the political fray. No disparaging name-calling for him.  I can't stand the "Gentle Jesus meek and mild" version of Christianity, particularly as portrayed in modern forms as a gentle-faced, fairish blue-eyed Jesus. The scriptures might say He was meek - but do we understand what that word means to-day?  And Jesus was certainly far from mild.  In Luke 13:32, Jesus refers to the then reigning member of the Herods as a fox.   I wonder where that view, that description came from? 
I think of a family living in Nazareth.  Like all families there are stories and "remember whens".  How huge a thing in the life of the Ben David family it must have been when Joseph and Mary, warned by an angel, fled with their young son into Egypt to escape the massacre of young children by Herod the Great (Matthew 2:13).  There they remained until there was a change in political leadership from Herod the Great to his son, Archelaus.  

When the Ben David family returned from Egypt they did not go back to Bethlehem but to Nazareth.  Even if the boy Jesus had no memory of his own regarding these events, he would have been immersed in his family's history and story.  How could a family have retold this story without making political comment or passing on a view of those who instigated their refugee status?  

The Herod Jesus refers to in Luke is another son of Herod the Great, Antipas: Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; political opportunist and collaborator under Roman rule in Judaea.  Surely, Herod Antipas was a fox indeed: sly, wily, treading warily through the pitfalls and pratfalls of Roman rule.  Would the Herods have kept alive the story of the massacre of the little children? I think not.  But the Ben David family did. Only by divine intervention did they save a very precious son.

To-morrow, 28 December,  the Massacre of the Holy Innocents is remembered.  The children who died because of the bloodlust and envy of a powerful and wily king have never been forgotten by the Christian church.  
To-morrow in Melbourne, the remembrance will take a contemporary turn:  

Wednesday 28 December, 10 am – 11.30 am: Feast of Holy Innocents Peace Procession 
In the days after Christmas, while most people are recovering from the indulgence of Christmas Day or deeply immersed in the liturgy of the Boxing Day Test, the Church calendar commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in a bid to maintain his power and privilege. This is a part of the Christmas story which gets little attention in churches, yet it forms a major part of the biblical birth narrative. It is a day when we remember children and other innocent people killed by today’s Herods, who consider such innocents to be acceptable collateral damage in their quest for power and security. Children are still the most deeply affected by wars around the globe – 65% of Afghans are under the age of 18. 90% of those killed in wars are civilians. Join us for a peace procession from Victoria Barracks in Melbourne to Defence Plaza. We will begin at 10 am with prayers at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road, and process to Defence Plaza, 661 Bourke St. Melbourne, for further prayer and reflection.
Children of war: fight, dying, surviving 

"The source of most human violence and suffering has been a hidden children's holocaust throughout history, whereby billions of innocent human beings have been routinely murdered, bound, starved, raped, mutilated, battered and tortured by their parents and other caregivers, so that they grow up as emotionally crippled adults and become vengeful time bombs who periodically restage their early traumas in sacrificial rites called wars."
- Lloyd DeMause
Hat Tip to Iain Macadair

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Archbishop of Canterbury: a Christmas message about answering, responding and praying The Prayer Book

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When the first Christians read – or more probably heard – the opening words of John's gospel, they would have understood straight away quite a lot more than we do. They would have remembered, many of them, that in Hebrew 'word' and 'thing' are the same, and they would all have known that in Greek the word used has a huge range of meaning – at the simplest level, just something said; but also a pattern, a rationale, as we might say, even the entire structure of the universe seen as something that makes sense to us, the structure that holds things together and makes it possible for us to think.
Against this background, we can get a glimpse of just what is being said about Jesus. His life is what God says and what God does; it is the life in which things hold together; it is because of the life that lives in him that we can think. Jesus is the place where all reality is focused, brought to a point. Here is where we can see as nowhere else what connects all reality – all human experience and all natural laws. Edward Elgar famously said about his Enigma Variations that they were all based on a tune that everyone knew – and no-one has ever worked out what he meant. But John's gospel declares that the almost infinite variety of the life we encounter is all variations on the theme that is stated in one single clear musical line, one melody, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. 'In him was life, and the life was the light of men.'
But this shouldn't make us forget entirely the underlying image. The life that lives in Jesus, the everlasting divine agency that is uniquely embodied in him, is like something that is said – a word addressed to us. Because, like any word addressed to us, it demands a response. And the gospel goes on at once to tell us that the expected response was not forthcoming. Before we have even got to Christmas in the words of the gospel we are taken to Good Friday, and to the painful truth that the coming of Jesus splits the world into those who respond and those who don't. Once the word is spoken in the world, there is no way back. Your response to it, says the gospel again and again, is what shows who and what you really are, what is deepest in you, what means most. What we say or do in our response to Jesus is our way of discovering for ourselves and showing to one another what is real in and for us. Like the other gospel writers, John hints very strongly that some people respond deeply and truthfully to Jesus without fully knowing who he is or what exactly they are doing in responding to him; this is not a recipe for tight religious exclusivism. But the truth is still an uncompromising one: if you cannot or will not respond, you are walking away from reality into a realm of trackless fogbound falsehood.
There is the question we cannot ignore. It's been well said that the first question we hear in the Bible is not humanity's question to God but God's question to us, God walking in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden, looking for Adam and Eve who are trying to hide from him. 'Adam, where are you?' The life of Jesus is that question translated into an actual human life, into the conversations and encounters of a flesh and blood human being like all others – except that when people meet him they will say, like the woman who talks with him at the well of Samaria, 'Here is a man who told me everything I ever did.' Very near the heart of Christian faith and practice is this encounter with God's questions, 'who are you, where are you?' Are you on the side of the life that lives in Jesus, the life of grace and truth, of unstinting generosity and unsparing honesty, the only life that gives life to others? Or are you on your own side, on the side of disconnection, rivalry, the hoarding of gifts, the obsession with control? To answer that you're on the side of life doesn't mean for a moment that you can now relax into a fuzzy philosophy of 'life-affirming' comfort. On the contrary: it means you are willing to face everything within you that is cheap, fearful, untruthful and evasive, and let the light shine on it. Like Peter in the very last chapter of John's gospel, we can only say that we are trying to love the truth that is in Jesus, even as we acknowledge all we have done that is contrary to his spirit. And we say this because we trust that we are loved by this unfathomable mystery who comes to us in the shape of a newborn child, 'full of grace and truth'.
Finding words to respond to the Word made flesh is and has always been one of the most demanding things human beings can do. Don't believe for a moment that religious language is easier or vaguer than the rest of our language. It's more like the exact opposite: think of St John writing his gospel, crafting the slow, sometimes repetitive pace of a narrative that allows Jesus to change the perspective inch by inch as a conversation unfolds. Or of St Paul, losing his way in his sentences, floundering in metaphors as he struggles to find the words for something so new that there are no precedents for talking about it. Or any number of the great poets and contemplatives of the Christian centuries. It isn't surprising if we need other people's words a lot of the time; and it's of great importance that we have words to hand that have been used by others in lives that obviously have depth and integrity. That's where the language of our shared worship becomes so important.
This coming year we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. It has shaped the minds and hearts of millions; and it has done so partly because it has never been a book for individuals alone. It is common prayer, prayer that is shared. In its origins, it was meant to be – and we may well be startled by the ambition of this – a book that defined what a whole society said to God together. If the question 'where are you?' or 'who are you?' were being asked, not only individual citizens of Britain but the whole social order could have replied, 'Here we are, speaking together – to recognize our failures and our ideals, to recognize that the story of the Bible is our story, to ask together for strength to live and act together in faithfulness, fairness, pity and generosity.' If you thumb through the Prayer Book, you may be surprised at how much there is that takes for granted a very clear picture of how we behave with each other. Yes, of course, much of this language feels dated – we don't live in the unselfconscious world of social hierarchy that we meet here. But before we draw the easy and cynical conclusion that the Prayer Book is about social control by the ruling classes, we need to ponder the uncompromising way in which those same ruling classes are reminded of what their power is for, from the monarch downwards. And the almost forgotten words of the Long Exhortation in the Communion Service, telling people what questions they should ask themselves before coming to the Sacrament, show a keen critical awareness of the new economic order that, in the mid sixteenth century, was piling up assets of land and property in the hands of a smaller and smaller elite.
The Prayer Book is a treasury of words and phrases that are still for countless English-speaking people the nearest you can come to an adequate language for the mysteries of faith. It gives us words that say where and who we are before God: 'we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep', 'we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table', but also, 'we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of the everlasting kingdom'. It gives us words for God that hold on to the paradoxes we can't avoid: 'God... who art always more ready to hear than we to pray,' 'who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity, 'whose property is always to have mercy.' A treasury of words for God – but also a source of vision for an entire society: 'Give us grace seriously to lay heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions'; 'If ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God but also against your neighbours; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution'.
The world has changed, the very rhythms of our speech have changed, our society is irreversibly more plural, and we have – with varying degrees of reluctance – found other and usually less resonant ways of talking to God and identifying who we are in his presence. If we used only the Prayer Book these days we'd risk confusing the strangeness of the mysteries of faith with the strangeness of antique and lovely language. But we're much the poorer for forgetting it and pushing it to the margins as much as we often do in the Church. And it is crucial to remember the point about the Prayer Book as something for a whole society, binding together our obligations to God and to one another, in a dense interweaving of love and duty joyfully performed.
The Prayer Book was once the way our society found words to respond to the Word, to say who and where they were in answer to God's question. Those who prayed the Prayer Book, remember, included those who abolished the slave trade and put an end to child labour, because of what they had learned in this book and in their Bibles about the honour of God and of God's children. They knew their story; they knew how to give an answer for themselves, how to join up the muddle of their experience in a coherent pattern by relating it to the unchanging truth and grace of God. That's why the coming year's celebration is not about a museum piece.
The most pressing question we now face, we might well say, is who and where we are as a society. Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost. Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today's financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.
And into that dark the Word of God has entered, in love and judgment, and has not been overcome;
in the darkness the question sounds as clear as ever,
to each of us and to our church and our society:  
'Britain, where are you?' Where are the words we can use to answer? 
© Rowan Williams 2011


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent 4 - Reflection - Justice and Mercy : then and now

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JUSTICE AND MERCY – THEN AND NOW

During Advent, the Social Justice group has asked the people of All Saints to reflect on a portion of Advent scripture in a context of Justice. The SJ group hopes this reflection too assists in your studies and prayers in the week ahead. 

Luke 1: 50-53
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

Tucked away in the Christmas story is Mary’s remarkable response, The Magnificat – My soul does magnify the Lord. Mary (the Jewish version of her name is Miriam) echoes, with insight, another time and another prophetic Miriam, the sister of Moses. Each woman intervened in the narrative of Israel and the world by bringing into human history a child whose life would be hallmarked with the spirit of redemption.

Mary knew the character of the God who sent the messaging angel.  She knew his mercy, his strength, his diminution of the proud and powerful, his uplift of the humble and powerless.  Mary knew her God as a provider and his disdain for those who relied on wealth and status.  Her words are for us to-day. Her active acceptance of what was being asked of her, personally, is also a model for us to-day.

Mary’s view of God was broad and deep. In the all-encompassing God was, and is to-day, a place for herself.  The God who deals with nations and generations also takes into account the individual.  It is so with God’s justice. God’s actions are broad and deep: across nations, across generations, across the sweep of history yet into the lives of individuals.

To-day, when we feel the march of history close at hand in the lives of nations and individuals, we know that God’s mercy, God’s justice is present too.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3 - Reflection - Of prayer and prophets

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OF PRAYER AND PROPHETS

During Advent, the Social Justice group is asking the people of All Saints to reflect on a portion of Advent scripture in a context of Justice. The SJ group hopes these  brief reflections  assist in your studies and prayers in the week ahead. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 

Rejoice always
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in all circumstances
For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise the words of prophets
But test everything
Hold fast to what is good
Abstain from every form of evil
May the God of peace himself
Sanctify you entirely
And may your spirit and soul and body be kept
Sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The One who calls you is faithful and He will do this.

Two things stand out in these words which may not be as well understood in these times as in other periods.  Firstly, how do we pray without ceasing? The Eastern Church commends the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart. -  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This simple prayer is said repeatedly, over and over again, so often that one discovers that the prayer almost says itself in one’s heart and mind.  Thus its unceasing quality. 

Secondly, is the concept of “prophets”. Paul lists prophecy among the spiritual gifts at the service of the church.  What is prophecy? Who is a prophet? Prophecy is often thought of as foretelling the future.  This can be the case but is not the whole story. Some put emphasis on forthtelling rather than foretelling which is wise.  However, there is one thing in the Scriptures that is common to the prophets found there.  That is a concern for justice – God’s justice.  Work for justice within the church and the world is part of God’s prophetic gift to us. 

Justice is a project of restoration, reconciliation, and wholeness.
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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tweets 1 - the Spirit of Wisdom

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advent 2 - Reflection - The Rule of the Kingdom of God

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The reflection below was prepared by the
Social Justice Group
from
All Saints Mitcham, in Melbourne, Australia. 
 
THE RULE of the KINGDOM OF GOD

During Advent, the Social Justice group is asking the people of All Saints to reflect on a portion of Advent scripture in a context of Justice. As it was last Sunday, is to-day and wil be for the next two Advent Sundays, the pew sheets include brief reflections to include in your studies and prayers in the week ahead.

Isaiah 40: 9-11
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

As we prepare for the birth of Christ our Saviour, we prepare to usher in the rule of the Kingdom of God.  This is our Good News, God’s gift to the world which we are asked to proclaim.  Attention is drawn to two key words:

Reward and Recompense.

The ability to administer either reward or recompense is in the gift of a ruler or a government. 

Our God is a God of justice and of reconciliation.  He rules with strength but, as the Prophet points out, we find gentleness within that rule.  We find with that gentleness an inclusion into the Divine Presence and into what some people refer to as the Kin(g)dom.  We are kin to our Saviour, the Divine Ruler.  He makes us his own, makes us part of his rule.  So along with the self-fulfilling purposes of reward and recompense, we find in the coming of Jesus into our history a form of justice and reconciliation which goes far beyond the outcomes of earthly governments, courts, and judgments.
As we know and understand this
In our own lives
We are then confident to say to others
“Here is your God!”
 

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Advent 1 - Reflection - Justice and Reconciliation

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The reflection below was prepared by the
Social Justice Group
from
All Saints Mitcham, in Melbourne, Australia.

JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION

During Advent, the Social Justice group is asking the people of All Saints to reflect on a portion of Advent scripture in a context of Justice. To-day, and in the ensuing three Advent Sundays, the pew sheets will include brief reflections to include in your studies and prayers in the week ahead.

Psalm 80: 7
Restore us, O God of hosts,
Let your face shine,
That we may be saved.

This is a cry in the hearts of God’s people.
It is a cry for restoring a people,
Restoring a relationship,
Bringing things back to where they once were
To rescue people from the current state of affairs.

As we look across the world to-day,we see famine, wars, unemployment, financial disaster, instability in many nations, people fleeing their countries for their lives and their security. These conditions impact at a personal level.

There are cries seeking
restoration, reconciliation, salvation.

We have seen this year peoples’ revolutions, the Occupy protests, riots, as well as environmental catastrophes.

People everywhere long for
restoration, a shining  face, salvation.

To-day, this Advent Sunday, we reflect on the very commencement of our journey to salvation and all that means. It means even-ing up the scales, restoring relationships, putting things back on an even keel, freeing us up to move to a better place.

Restoration means making new.

It means repair and replacement.
This is where the personal meets
the family, meets the community, meets the nation, meets the whole world.

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