Reflections on Same Sex Marriage

Yesterday, at the announcement of the results of the postal survey senator Penny Wong burst into tears. I joined in. I asked myself ‘Why did you do that Paul?” Back came the answer ‘Because you too know what it is like to walk around with secret shame.’ This is not the shame that others have attached to being gay, but the shame of somehow feeling like ‘the black sheep’: wanting to be valued, but somehow inheriting the unconscious sense of not being worthy.

 

I also recall the many women (mostly) in the Bible like Mary, whose shame at being pregnant too soon as taken away because ‘what was at work in her was from the Holy Spirit’, or of Sarah and Hannah, whose shame was taken away by the birth of Isaac and Samuel. Like senator Wong, they too broke out into song and tears of relief and joy at the news.

 

So, now that the results are in, I want to offer my account of why I think that the ability of same sex couples to become married is a good thing.

 

First, I have often heard the assertion that “I believe marriage I between a man and a woman”, as if asserting something makes it so. What is going on in this assertion?

 

The position of the Diocese of Sydney and those that follow them, goes something like this: “True love can only happen between opposites, with people who are not ‘like us’. Hence Homo (like) sexuality is inherently defective love.” (This was Pope Benedict’s argument too). Men and women complement one another, and so for there to be a Godly ‘marriage’ it must be one of opposites: ie, between a man and a woman.

 

I agree with this proposition’s first part. St. Paul writes “God shows Godly love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ God’s love is not about people who are ‘like’ us, but for people who are not like us*

 

But I am of the view that ‘otherness’ does not necessarily reside in another gender but in the mystery of another person. There is enough ‘otherness’ in another person to make loving them as challenging as it is for those of us who are attracted to the opposite gender.

 

This is the more true, when I think about the fact that ‘personhood’ does not simply live in only two genders, but that male and female are two poles of a spectrum of gender description, as the existence of intersex people, or people of indeterminate gender shows.

 

As well, sexual attraction is not simply a matter of all for women or all for men. One’s sexual identity falls somewhere on the spectrum between homosexuality and heterosexuality, which includes bisexuality and any number of points in between.

 

I am left handed for most things, but I play the guitar right handed, I bat at cricket right handed, I hold a knife and fork in a right handed way, but I eat with my spoon in my left hand. I use my left hand mostly for strength, but will use my right hand’s fingers for tasks that need fine motor co-ordination.Sexual attraction, like ‘handedness’ has been equally the subject of Biblical and social approbation.

 

The evidence now shows that sexual orientation is a similar kind of thing: it represents not as a binary state, but as a continuum.On this basis I think that it is that the mystery of each person be sufficient to represent an ‘other’, who calls forth Godly love in each partner.

 

The other thing is this. I used to have some small reservations asbout gsy love, until I went to the Anglican Church of All Saints Haight Ashbuy in San Francisco. There the congregation was made up of ninety per cent gay couples, with a small minority of others.

 

I thought, “I can only express my reservations because I am a majority! I could not do it here, where I am as minority.” This is what I think ‘straight’ people should keep in mind. Privilege accrues to them by chance, and makes them a majority. The privilege of being ‘straight’ is the privilege not to see their biases and discrimination. I think it was a huge humiliation for LGBTQI people to be subjected to the opinions of others about their love for one another.

 

This idea comes to me from Stephen Fowl’s idea of Biblical interpretation. He says that no one ought to have an idea but another, until they have had several dinner parties with them. It was the explicit presence of the Spirit in gentile Christians, around a table, which forced the Church into accepting them uncircumcised. The same I think applies to LGBTQI people. We do not have the right to say anything about the quality of their love, until we also allow ourselves to be loved by them, and to love them as dinner guests. Then see where you get to.

 

Last, many gay people have been forced into unsavoury means of finding partners, because their love was at first illegal, and at a minimum, seen as shameful. Recognising gay personhood and equal love by opening the institution of marriage to them does not diminish marriage, but increases the amount of love and fidelity in the world. This cannot be a bad thing.

* In spite of the fact that in Genesis, when Adam meets Eve he actually says ‘Well! Here is someone who is like me: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

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“Prayer-Work”, Like ‘Space-Time’ Forges Sacramental Being-before-the -face-of-God”

This week has seen me out in the garden a lot. I have been mowing the lawns, and looking to see where the pipes for our garden’s watering system go, so that we can keep the garden alive, without wasting too much water, and without the continual moving of sprinklers. As well, I serviced the ride on mower. Getting the oil filter off for the first time required the invention of a tool to grab it tightly, because he tool that I bought was no where near strong enough for the job. All in all, I finished each day like the end of an Enid Blighton novel: “Tired but happy’.

 

All the day I was singing hymn tunes to myself. The one that came to me has a lovely tune, but the words applied too.

 

“Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

 

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.”

 

This hymn was important because there was conflict during the week too.

It is not a pleasant feeling to be confronted by some deep seated and ancient responses, which make me resentful and angry.

 

So while I was going about the physical work to making things and problem solving, I was also reminding myself of my need for God’s grace.

 

So while grateful of the forgiveness that makes continuing on in relationships possible, I was also helped by the combination of physical work, and the prayer that the hymn represented.

 

Now I do have a prayer room. I do go there to say my prayers morning ad evening, but it was not there, this time, that the healing of my spirit happened. Rather it was in the physicality of work that I could get in touch with what I needed.

 

There is a lot of evidence in the literature about this. The monks used to say that the best cure for depression was physical labour.

 

I remember when the actor Gary McDonald suffered a severe bout of depression, he said that the fixed and absolutely essential part of the day, when he could do nothing else was the walking that he did.

 

Hatha Yoga is a way of bringing ones body to bear on one’s whole being. Perhaps it is similar to ‘work’ in its effects and benefits.

 

I also remember a police chaplain telling us about the physiology of stress. He said that stress is brought about by the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. He wet on to say that these hormones are designed to get or muscles ready for running away or fighting, so that the only way to deal with these hormones is in fact to do some physical activity.

 

The Rule of St. Benedict talks of ‘Work and Prayer’ but in my experience of this week, it was a case of ‘work ads prayer’

 

My definition of prayer is ‘coming into contact with my deepest self in the company of God.’ So this week, in times of stress and emotion, the physical activity of working while singing helps this to happen in ways that just ‘being spiritual’ via prayer and bible reading or thinking cannot do.

 

For me, it is this unity of what we call ‘the spiritual’ and ‘the physical’ that is the basis of the sacraments.

 

I actually hate it that we have the terms ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’. Just as the scientists not have a single entity called ‘space-time’ I would live it if we had a term that captured this unity.

 

Other cultures had it, they just spoke of ‘people’ which included everything. But we cannot get past the fact that we now have words that make this distinction.

 

Even the definition of a sacrament that talks about an ‘outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual grace’ seems to me not to do justice to the mystery of the sacrament of a ‘human being before he face of God’

 

Yesterday was a sacrament because all that I am was brought into the company of God. I know that a ‘sacrament’ is the right word for tis kind of day because every Sunday in Church that is what we do. We acknowledge the holiness of physical being.

 

It is why in Church I do the same thing. I sing my heart out; I enjoy the smell of incense (at least here in Kilmore); I love he dressing up; I love the movement from one location to another.

 

This too is not ‘just’ spiritual, but is a concentrated form of the day that I spent yesterday.

 

If there is one thing that makes me sad about the drift of people away from Catholic style Anglicanism toward other forms of protestant expression is the loss of this deep sacramentality of life.

 

As I said when I was married “With all that I am I honour you.” This could be said to God as much as to my wife. It is what makes marriage a sacrament too

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The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and the ‘Individual’

This week marked what is kept as the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation.

 

One of the big changes that happened during that time was Martin Luther’s translation of the bible into German. This happened at about the same time as the invention of the printing press and the subsequent rise in literacy among the general population.

 

This change gave individuals, for the first time, access to the Bible. It made a huge difference, because previously, the only way people knew about what was in the bible was through the teaching of the clergy (read The Church) or through images, like the stained glass.

 

The consequence of this was a seismic shift in how people thought about themselves, and about God. It is as though the category of ‘the individual’ was invented then!

 

People who could now read the Bible for themselves were able to say “I know what is there now! I don’t need a priest or the Church to tell me what God wants!”

 

You can hear the echo of this sentiment when it is shifted from the reading of the Bible, to going to confession. It’s the same idea “I don’t need a priest to tell me my sins are forgiven, I can have a direct relationship with God.”

The emergence of the category of ‘the individual’ means for us that in our relationship with God, with others, and in our knowledge of the faith, so much more is demanded.

 

Instead of seeing ourselves as members of a group first and foremost, now it is ‘my needs’ that are foregrounded. In matters of the faith, this means that small groups, where people have the opportunity to address their personal issues, and where individual questions can be answered ought to become the norm.

This is what the Wesleyans did with their converts a little while later.

 

Perhaps it is people’s needs for this individual attention, when it is missing, that accounts for some of the dissatisfaction with the institution of the Church.

 

Thinking about the idea of a relationship with God, the same applies. Personal prayer becomes more important than before. ‘I have prayed about this’ becomes the argument against which no counter argument can be brought. The rise in ideas of mysticism also highlights the unmediated qualities and authority of our personal relationship with God.

 

On other other side of the ecclesiastical coin, it has become the norm for some parts of the church to ask for ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour’ to be the hallmark of genuine faith.

 

But like any movement that foregrounds one aspect of reality, the ‘other side of the coin’ is always there, in the background, creating the back -drop against which this ‘foregrounding’ is even possible.

 

In this case the background is the mediated nature of our relationship with God and the collective reality within which we live. As John Donne wrote: No man (sic) is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

 

The primary reality in the universe is Christ. The primary reality on earth is the Body of Christ: the Church. It is the collective reality, which is primary. This means that reading the Bible, and discovering what God wants is not only an individual thing, to be put against the reality of others, but that the reading and interpreting of the Bible is a collective activity, in which individual readings and interpretations are tested and confirmed, or not.

 

This is safety too, for it is far too easy for a powerful group to pick off individuals, one at a time, once the group is scattered, or to ‘set off’ something as if it should be opposed by individuals.

 

We can see this in the field of wages growth, where low wages are the product of the loss of collectivity in bargaining. Recognising the claim of the Church on us as a corporate entity not only matches the corporate nature of Christ, but provides a safety net for us.

 

Take one example: the dying with dignity legislation currently before us. It is the whole of the state of Victoria, a collective, which is making this new possibility come into force. The big danger is that the option to ‘die’ may become the norm, instead of putting resources into palliative care. If the Church is serious about protecting the value of human lives, then it will take collective action to make sure that the State Government does not use ‘dying with dignity’ as an excuse for saving money on good quality palliative care for everyone. No individual can do this.

 

Collective reading of the Bible, listening to the heritage of the faith and relating to God all have a collective dimension, as well as a personal one. It is a mistake to put asunder what God has joined together. John Donne in the rest of is poem expresses this ‘foreground and background’ character of the relationship between individual and the collective.

 

So on this Reformation anniversary, I want to affirm both my ‘self’ and my personal relationship with god, and my membership of the Church and the benefit that this brings.

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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Refletions on Being At A Civil Marriage

Last Saturday I went to a wedding. Normally when I go to a wedding I am either presiding over the marriage, or I am at my own. But this time I gad the privilege of seeing what, I am told, nearly 75 per cent of Australians now do: they make use of the services of a civil celebrant. I was interested to see what happened.

 

The first thing I noticed was that there was a frame, like an arch, hung with fabric under which the couple and the celebrant stood. This arch was placed at the end of a kind of ‘grassed arbour,. The effect was to create a ‘garden room’ into which the guests entered, and sat on their chairs, or stood at the back.

 

There are people, who choose to be married in the larger rooms of hotels where the reception will be, but this time the reception was at a winery, and the ceremony was ‘outside’. I was interested to note that even though we were in ‘nature’, it was ‘built’ nature: there was the arch, and the garden.

 

In a church, the same elements are present. Most churches have a kind of ‘arch’ and often there are flowers.

 

So the difference between the two spaces did not lie in anything qualitative, but in the amounts of things. In a Church the amount of construction is much more than there was in this outdoor wedding, while the ‘plan t’ elements are less. In this wedding, the proportion of ‘building to plants’ is reversed. The building is ‘decorative’ like the flowers, and the plants are arranged to act like a building.

 

From this I get that weddings are definitely ‘culture’, and that just as a building serves to focus our attention in certain ways, so too did the garden at this wedding.

 

I am particularly interested in the ‘arch’. In a church, the ’arch’ forms a roof or canopy under which the wedding happens. This is most obvious in Jewish weddings, where the canopy is carried around and placed directly over the heads of the couple.

 

People often talk of being ‘under the canopy’ meaning that the roof of the building that they are in supplies the meaning or context of the marriage.

 

This is clearly true for religious people where the roof or canopy might be painted with Christian or other symbols. This roof says ‘What you do here is under the protection and aegis of the God in whose house you are.’

 

In this case, the groom made the canopy. Which brings me to two other reflections.

 

Since the ‘building’ did not set the context of the wedding,’ the meaning making ‘framework’ of this wedding was set by the celebrant’s recital of how the couple met and why they decided to get married. From time to time the celebrant would also offer meaning making statements like ‘Today is not about words, but about actions.’ As well, the vows that the couple took were personalised.

 

I think that this represents a big difference today. In a Church wedding, the meaning of the wedding is clearly stated to be under the ‘canopy’ of God’s purposes for the world. This is presented both in the building, and in the preface that is read before the wedding. While in a Church wedding the couple enter into the Christian story as they marry, for those who do not share the Christian story, the meaning of their being married has to come from somewhere else. But it has to be done. The meaning of the actions has to be spelled out.

 

When Christians enter into marriage, it is less ‘personal’ because what they are doing is not just ‘about them,’ but it is about ‘them as Christians before the face of God.’

 

I think though, that the desire for the rituals of life to be intensely personal is justified.

 

We live in an age where if something does not really mean anything ‘to me’ then there is something wrong with that thing. This speaks to me of the integrity with which we approach the promises we make. We do not want just to go through the motions, which represents of some one else’s idea of what a marriage is.

 

This makes life harder for the celebrant. In speaking to her after the ceremony, she said that she had about thirty different options for beginning a wedding ceremony, which a couple could choose from, or not.

 

I am a bit sad that more people do not really ‘get’ the Christian story, because for my marriage it makes such a difference to how I am, day by day. I am always saying to my self ’ love keeps no record of wrongs but rejoices in the truth’, from 1 Corinthians 13, and saying ‘with all that I am and all that I have I honour you.’ Being in the Christian story gives me a path and an ideal into which I can grow. The canopy stays. I often quote Bonhoeffer to myself ‘It is not your love that will sustain your marriage, but your marriage will sustain your love.’

 

My reflections are twofold. First, it ids impossible to get away from ‘structure.’ The difference between a church and other places is just one of degree. Second, if one is not going to be married under the Christian canopy, I see a lot of integrity going into how these two people did it.

 

 

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Harvey Weinstein and Christian Manhood

The ‘outing’ of Harvey Weinstein in recent days has also brought forth a discussion about what is being called a ‘crisis of masculinity.’

 

I am wondering what this means. Is there a crisis among men about what it means to be a man? It is clear that in the case of Harvey Weinstein the rule applied to the people of Milos by their attackers applies: “The rich do what they can, the poor suffer what they must.”

 

In this case the rich are rich in positional power. They can promote or hinder the career of someone else.

This is why the women involved have not spoken up until now.

 

So, just as history is written by the winners, in this case, the powerful can do and can get away with what they like, unless they are forced to do something else by legislation. What kind of men do this? Is this ‘might makes right’ view typical o masculinity?

 

I am reminded of a Jungian account of the development of the Knights of the Round Table and the age of chivalry. This account goes like this: in about the 10th century, there was only ‘might make right’. There existed bands of marauding knights who did what they pleased because they could. They had weapons; they were physically stronger than most other people, but especially women. These men were loyal to their own families and interests. They regarded feats of bravery and endurance as high values.

 

Now the thing is, that what it means to be a ‘man’ is not obvious. Being a ‘man’ needs to incorporate the fact of masculinity’s superior strength over women. Being a man is a construction that needs to be ‘proved’ in some way.

 

I can see how men like Harvey Weinstein, who might be unsure about what it means to be a man, continually need to reassure themselves about this doubt by continually demonstrating their capacity to show their prowess, or to be strong over others, mostly women, but I should think that exercising power over male colleagues is also part of his need to prove to himself that he is a ‘man’.

 

I have noticed Donald Trump doing the same thing. For him ‘being smart’ sounds like an essential part of what it means for him to be a ‘man’. It is as if at some time in the past, some ne has said ‘Donald, you will never be a proper man, you are too dumb.’ So the process of construction of an image of ‘manhood’ begins.

 

In the times of the marauding bands of knights, a new image of manhood grew up to counter the ‘might makes right’ picture. This picture grew up as a way to be a Christian knight.

 

 

 

 

Reflection 22-10-17

 

The ‘outing’ of Harvey Weinstein in recent days has also brought forth a discussion about what is being called a ‘crisis of masculinity.’

 

I am wondering what this means. Is there a crisis among men about what it means to be a man? It is clear that in the case of Harvey Weinstein the rule applied to the people of Milos by their attackers applies: “The rich do what they can, the poor suffer what they must.”

 

In this case the rich are rich in positional power. They can promote or hinder the career of someone else.

This is why the women involved have not spoken up until now.

 

So, just as history is written by the winners, in this case, the powerful can do and can get away with what they like, unless they are forced to do something else by legislation. What kind of men do this? Is this ‘might makes right’ view typical o masculinity?

 

I am reminded of a Jungian account of the development of the Knights of the Round Table and the age of chivalry. This account goes like this: in about the 10th century, there was only ‘might makes right’. There existed bands of marauding knights who did what they pleased because they could. They had weapons; they were physically stronger than most other people, but especially women. These men were loyal to their own families and interests. They regarded feats of bravery and endurance as high values.

 

Now the thing is, that what it means to be a ‘man’ is not obvious. Being a ‘man’ needs to incorporate the fact of masculinity’s superior strength over women. Being a man is a construction that needs to be ‘proved’ in some way.

 

I can see how men like Harvey Weinstein, who might be unsure about what it means to be a man, continually need to reassure themselves about this doubt by continually demonstrating their capacity to show their prowess, or to be strong over others, mostly women, but I should think that exercising power over male colleagues is also part of his need to prove to himself that he is a ‘man’.

 

I have noticed Donald Trump doing the same thing. For him ‘being smart’ sounds like an essential part of what it means for him to be a ‘man’. It is as if at some time in the past, some ne has said ‘Donald, you will never be a proper man, you are too dumb.’ So the process of construction of an image of ‘manhood’ begins.

 

In the times of the marauding bands of knights, a new image of manhood grew up to counter the ‘might makes right’ picture. This picture grew up as a way to be a Christian knight.

 

 

 

 

The first element in this new picture of manhood was that the knight served a purpose grater than his own desires. This meant that power, and wanting, and skill were placed at the service of ‘Christ’. The goal was not self-aggrandisement, but a vision of Christ in the Holy Grail. The motto was ‘Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow he Christ the King, else, wherefore born?”

 

Second, the code of chivalry dictated an attitude to women. It was acknowledged that women were weaker, physically. A true Christian knight does not abuse this power, but puts it into the service of the weaker party in rescuing her, protecting her from other men, and from dragons.

 

This gives the true Christian Knight a way to be tender, not only to others, but towards his own weakness as well.

 

Third, the round table symbolised the equality of all, and the refusal of one to dominate the other.

 

So in history, we have an example of how certain constructions of masculinity, which emphasised physical power and prowess, were replaced and modified by a vision of the Christian Knight.

 

But the situation today is more complicated. Most of the work that men do (apart from work perhaps around the home) does not depend upon a man’s superior physical strength. Women have entered the workforce and so their demand is to be treated as equals, not as the objects of chivalry (although there is a degree of ambivalence about this too.)

 

In one sense, with so much change going on, it is no wonder that there is a ‘crisis of masculinity’ because men don’t know what it mans to be a ‘man’ any more.

 

There was a time when the ‘men’s movement’ took men out drumming in the forest but it has not become a generalised movement the way that feminism has.

 

Is there anything to say? I think that, from the old picture of the knights of the round table, we can still usefully say that ‘a proper man is one whose powers are put at the disposal of some greater power: The Christ, who is the image of true humanity.

 

We can use the image of God as a dynamic Trinity, where the locus of power is always shifting, and where ‘mutual submission in love’ is the rule. This picture can do better than the ‘round table’ image I think.

 

Chivalry is a more difficult idea these days, but something has to be made of ‘being weaker’ for both men and women: a topic for another reflection.

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The Advantage Being a Christian: It Has Kept Me Safe, And Given Me Some Useful Skills.

Lately I have heard about people who have had bad experiences with those whom they have met on ‘on line’ dating sites. Others have been the subject of trolling, or other bad behaviour via social media.

 

I was particularly interested in this phenomenon, because I met my present wife on the Internet. While looking, though, I restricted myself to sites, which were dedicated to Christians. Being a priest made this easier, because I needed a potential partner who would be able to share my priestly life.

 

Most of my friends in Facebook are also either Christians, or associated with the Church in some way. I have not been the subject of bad behaviour there either.

 

I might think “How Lucky” not to have to suffer such things, but I also think that there is something about being a Christian that lets me say “I do not want to go there”, which builds in a degree of safety into life.

 

This is not to say that I have not had my “Wild Days”. I have: but even in those days, I think that there were some limits, set by being part of the Christian youth scene, that protected me.

 

I can think of the fact that, although I smoked for a while, I did not start till very late, which I think protected me.

 

There is an old saying that says ‘Every young man must pluck three hairs from the beard of the devil’, but this plucking is done within safe limits.

 

I remember as a young man, I sent to see a spiritual director for a long time. He said to me that I had been living my life within too narrow a set of limits, and that I should explore more things.

 

I did do this, and I got into some trouble too, but he was always there to guide me, and to help me to live with the mistakes that I made.

 

Being a Christian does not mean being a ‘goody two shoes’ but I am glad that the natural boundaries of Christian life have served to provide some safe walls within which to live life.

 

This does not mean repressing the passionate side of life either. I remember as a young person being admonished for being too ‘wild’ by the quote from Philippians, They would say to me Paul, ” whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things.”

 

Well I was so full of passion and feelings that had not been ‘allowed’ I did not think that these feelings represented what was ‘pure, true, lovely and of good report’, but now I do. It is of ‘good report’ to be pure in anger at injustice. It is of good report to be aware of sexual feelings. It is of good report to be ‘purely sad, it is of good report to be purely joyful, and to want to just ‘go’ as I often did on my bike. Like Eric Liddell, I have wanted to say ‘God made me, and God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure!’

 

So some Christian advice serves to stop the flow of energy into life that can be ‘pure and true’, even though it might not be terribly ‘nice’.

 

On the other hand, I am grateful for some of the limits that have been set on my life by being a Christian, that have kept me out of harm’s way. I don’t necessarily want to go there!

 

And there is another aspect of Christian life for which I am grateful.

 

When I was growing up, I as part of a movement called “Christian Endeavour”. There, we would have to present ‘papers’ for our peers, from a very early age. I still have the text of one that I delivered when I was nine!

 

Being asked to do this meant that we were being trained to speak in public. We were being trained to make meaning from the bible. We were being trained how to but together the circumstances of our own lives, with the bible stories that we read, and to ask “How does the one inform the other”

These are skills that have stood me in good stead as a priest, but they are also skills that everyone could benefit from.

 

I think about the way much of modern life(like art) has been separated from the traditions of image making in the Church that give meaning to life. Now art is just about form and shape and individuality. But the great pictures connect us not only with our on lives, but also with the bigger story, of which our lives are a part.

 

The same is true of Bible stories. They provide a great canvass of God’s action, against which the smaller story of my own life can take place, and within which it can be located. I find great security on the sense that I am ‘held’ by the story of God, within which I live.

 

So being Christian has its benefits! Apart from the obvious benefit of knowing my life to be hid with Christ in God, I can also enjoy the ‘side benefits’ of having been kept safe by some Christian boundaries, and for the skills, that being a Christian teaches me, which otherwise I might not otherwise know.

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On ‘Transcendence’ and Christianity: A Philosophical Reflection

 

 

I often listen to the Radio National programme ‘The Philosophers’ Zone’.

 

The other week, they had two programmes on the topic of ‘Transcendence’. The first programme dealt with ‘Transcendence and the Ancients.’ (Mostly meaning Plato).

 

So the idea goes “The world that we can see is a shadow of the ‘real’ world. The trees that we can see are copies, as it were, of the ‘idea of tree-ness’. This mans that the idea of ‘tree-ness’ is more real than any given tree. It is good then to ‘transcend’ the individual examples, and connect with the ‘real’ tree.

 

There was also a related set of ideas that came from the Gnostics. They said that our true natures (our souls) were a spark of the divine that were trapped in a human body, and that again, it is a good thing to ‘go beyond’ the body as a mere shell, so that we can live in our true selves: the soul, or divine spark. Again, the idea of ‘going beyond’, or transcending is an important part of the process.

 

When it came to the modern ideas of transcendence, most of the programme dealt with our mental states of being ‘in the zone’ when we experience ourselves as ‘taken out of ourselves’ and into another reality.

 

Sports people talk about this, as do mystics.

The idea in both programmes, that lies behind the word ‘transcendence’, is that there is a ‘here’ and a ‘there’, and that there is something not quite right about ‘here’ so that we want to go to ‘there’.

 

So here is my problem. The focus of ‘transcendence’ in both cases is on us. It is we who have to do or achieve something. The other problem I that in the relationship between the ‘here’ and the ‘there’ it is always the ‘there’ that is preferred.

 

In Christian thinking, these problems do not arise because when talking about Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God, the two elements of ‘there’ and ‘here’ are already unified in him. As the creed that was worked out at the Council of Chalcedon says Jesus Christ is ‘True God, and True Humanity, without division, but without separation and without change.’ This unity does not have to be achieved by us, but in Christ we participate in it already. There is nothing to ‘transcend’ because the unity between ‘there’ (God) and ‘here’ (us) has already happened.

 

St. Augustine was a Neo-Platonist in the beginning of his life. He was looking for a way to ‘transcend’ the demands of his body. He says words to the effect of “Well it is nothing new to know about the Word (Logos) of God who made the world and so on. Everyone knows that , but what everyone does not know, and hat no one ever told me till I read it in the Bible, is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Now that is new, and solves my problem of the relationship of me (as human) to God.

 

The thing to do now is to participate in this united reality (Christ). How? By participating in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

Here the bread and wine, representing ‘here’ becomes Christ for us (the ‘there’). So the unity of ‘here and there’ is re-presented for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We say ‘…through your goodness we have this bread and wine to offer. It will become our spiritual food and drink.’

 

Just as Jesus Christ was God and Humanity, so the bread and wine are both ‘Bread and wine and Christ for us.’ Our job is to take part in this unity of God and us by participating in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We don’t need to look for further transcendence than that.

 

I think that this argument was missing from he Philosophers’ Zone radio programme. It is not so that Christianity only deals with morality, or that it is ‘personal and private’. Christianity lives in the same philosophical world ass do the people who are worrying about transcendence, and it has something to say about it.

 

In this sense Christian Philosophy is not ‘religious’ but a description of reality that we cant spin out of our own navels, but which adds something to our picture of ‘the real’ via the Bible and the revelation contained within it, which could easily be contributed to the Philosophers’ Zone. St. Augustine would have approved, because his account of the Faith was also a discussion with and critique of Neo-Platonism. I’m a bit sad that they did not ask a theologian to come to make this point on the show.

 

This is not to say that the idea of our transcendence is not part of Christianity. The word we use is not ‘transcendence’ but ‘transformation’ or ‘sanctification’. As St. Paul urges us in the letter to the Romans ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing o your minds’. Or as the letter to the Philippians urges us ‘Have in you the same mind that was in Christ Jesus’. The change that Christians want to see is the change that we become more like Christ, who has already united all ‘here’ with all ‘there’

As the hymn goes ‘Changed from Glory into Glory till in heaven we take our place, casting down our crowns before thee, lost in wonder love and praise.’

 

 

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