Monthly Archives: April 2012

I was about to be sent to…

I was about to be sent to the Vietnam War but missed out by the roll of a ball in a barrel when my birthday did not come out and by a change of Government in 1972.

I went to the A.N.Z.A.C. service on Wednesday. As usual, I came away conflicted. I was moved.  I love the New Zealand National Anthem better than the Australian one. It goes
God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific’s triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.
This hymn starts off with ‘God of Nations’. That is the right relationship between us and God. The tune is better too than ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

I was also moved that the Turkish consul-general was present. She quoted again the words of the commander of the Turkish army, later to become President of the new Turkey after the war, Kemal Attatürk.

‘Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.’

I often find that the most powerful words are the most simple. Who but a great person would have had the grace to say such things about a people that had come to invade our country?

Which brings me to what I see as the ‘elephant in the room’ about these A.N.Z.A.C. Day observances. All of the meaning making at this event happened at the ‘micro’ level. That is, it was about ‘devotion to duty’ without asking ‘But in what direction did that duty go?’ They talk about making the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ without asking whether it was worthwhile to send people into that war in the first place. It is the bigger questions that are not addressed at these gatherings.

I was about to be sent to the Vietnam War but missed out by the roll of a ball in a barrel when my birthday did not come out and by a change of Government in 1972. There were lost of demonstrations against the Vietnam War. We saw it as a local conflict which had its roots in Vietnamese nationalism. But as both Australia and the UK have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, then too we sent men to die because of our alliance with the US who wanted to invade these countries. At A.N.Z.A.C. Day, no one is addressing these issues which are as much a part of war as the qualities of individual or groups of soldiers. The first World War was not in my view a war to defend freedom as was suggested yesterday, but the last of the European power struggles that had been going on for a long time. What made the First World War and the Second (as an unfinished consequence) so bad was that this time European power struggles met industrialised killing capacity: the machine gun etc.

When the troops came home from Vietnam, the war was so unpopular that the soldiers had no ‘welcome home’ parade but were bussed into Sydney in the middle of the night and sometimes abused by protesters. In the light of the subsequent suffering of these soldiers, in part because of this treatment, I think that we are right, most of the time, to separate our view of individual soldiers from the decisions of the people who sent them. We can recognise qualities of courage, mateship and sacrifice and say “These came to the fore in extreme situations. We ought to be courageous and self sacrificing where it is harder: in less extreme situations.”

But the ongoing effects of physical wounds and psychological maiming that has resulted in more Australians dying from suicide as a result of the Vietnam War than were killed in it, means that it is not enough just to talk of personal qualities. I firmly believe that I am here in Montreux in a relatively intact state not because of my own personal courage or self sacrifice, but because of a geo-political accident.

In the same context, the EU is one of the direct consequences of people’s horror at such a war. Why not on A.N.Z.A.C. Day and Remembrance day say ‘Thank you God for the good sense of Germany and France after the war to establish economic bonds which will make it impossible for Europe to go to war again as it has in the past. Thank God for the Marshall Plan the rebuilt Germany. That idea has lasted for over sixty years now and has potentially saved more lives than any individual acts of sacrifice and courage. It is Germany and France and the EU countries who have as nations have had courage and who have sacrificed some of their sovereignty for peace.

I am also disturbed by the cross at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Vevey. It has a cross for sure, but superimposed over the cross is a sword. What does this image say? Is this symbol a version of “Say your prayers but keep your powder dry?” If people do not mean this by the symbol of ‘Sword and Cross’ what else could it mean? It would be better to perhaps twist the sword and make it look a bit like a ploughshare. (See Micah 4:3.) That would be better. But is there a legitimate relationship between violence and the cross? There are many who say ‘No’. Just over at Saint Maurice is a memorial to some roman soldiers who sacrificed their own lives rather than kill others. The Church has a ‘just war’ theory which goes some way to justifying violence in certain circumstances and Luther thought that there was room to ‘clear a space for the gospel’ by use of ‘the sword’. I am unsure about all this. But I do think that there could be a better symbol at the Commonwealth cemetery in Vevey.

Let Christ have the last word. The observances ended with this prayer for peace.
Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the
ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who lives etc.

It was a small part of the observance, but along with ‘God of Nations at thy feet’ was the most important for me. Religion ought not to be a ‘private matter’ but should stand in the cemetery as we do at Easter and make some claims for the way that leads to Life and her Lord.

Your ‘companion on “the Way” ‘ and Priest

Paul Dalzell

Continue reading

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The most common kind of c…

The most common kind of convincing I have had to do as a priest is to convince people that 6.00 am in the morning, or 11.30 pm at night is a really good time to have Church at Easter. I talk about going fishing, or skiing, or A.N.Z.A.C. day when in Australia there is a dawn service that lots of people attend.

n the week following Easter Day, we had guests (a married couple) from Germany come to stay. They are both pastors in the mainline Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) and share a job.

Over the years that I have been visiting them from Australia, I have had the opportunity to compare the congregations in which I have been with what they are doing. I thought that I would share with you some impressions from this visit.

The first thing that really blew me away was this! I will relate it ‘verbatim’ to give you the full effect. They said “We gathered outside the Church at 6.00 am in the morning for the first service of Easter. We lit a bonfire in the middle of our courtyard and we all gathered around it. Then we went into the Church. Afterward we had breakfast. We had about 120 people there and lots of Children too. Many of them were not regular members of the congregation. We think that people really like doing something ‘out of the ordinary’ for Easter or special occasions.”

After the few days spent with me, my friends went home because they had to put the finishing touches on a family camp ‘week away’ in the holidays which their congregation was hosting. By the way, it is also this same friend who gave me the name of Mahmoud Abogama a person seeking asylum in Germany and with whom they are involved.

So what do I make of this? Well, first of all there is this! The Protestant Church in Germany in some ways defines itself as ‘not Catholic’. This means that things that look Catholic are rejected because of their ‘look’.
Now I don’t know if you know, but the recommendation to begin the ‘Easter Vigil’ again only came with Vatican 11 (in the 1960’s). When the So the Changes in liturgy that the Catholic Church introduced when it decided to ‘open up the windows’ have flowed in the last 40 years right into the heart of Protestantism. I have noticed this too in the Protestant Churches in Australia. Many Uniting Church ‘ministers of the word’ are wearing stoles to represent the liturgical colour of the season and so on.

What I think about this, in the first instance, is that the Anglican Church is so lucky to consider Rome our sister and that we have never given up our claim to be part of the Holy Catholic and apostolic Church, even though we owe a great debt to and have borrowed a lot from the reformation.  It means that the whole range of Church practice is open to us, or rather that we are open to it, without too much trouble.

When Vatican 11 says ‘We think it is a good idea to emphasise Christian initiation again, and re-institute the service of the Easter Vigil’ then we look at it and say ‘Yes! Why not! That looks great’. I experienced my first Easter vigil in 1975 when I was looking around at where I might test my vocation. It was this service that helped to convince me to become and Anglican. (The vow of celibacy prevented me from becoming a Jesuit.)

Our liturgical sensibility means that we do not have to climb over the Reformation too much to appreciate the suggestions or changes that Rome makes. This is a very great benefit. But more to the point, we ‘get it’ whole. The Easter Vigil is not just a matter of lighting a fire. It is part of a whole system of Easter observance that begins on Maundy Thursday night and continues unabated till Easter Morning. The Easter Vigil itself has a series of elements in it (like the vigil readings themselves, and the ceremony of light, and the renewal of Baptismal vows) which all go together in one ‘thought world’. Because of our Reformed yet Catholic heritage, we have all this available to us too. We can have ‘the whole thing’ not just the most obvious bits (like the fire).

But I admire my friends greatly for their openness to new things and I think that we could take a lesson from their book here in Montreux.

Did you also notice that they had 120 people! This is partly because they have more people to work with. But what my friends have done is to inspire the imagination of people who are not Church goers. They have made contact with a great ‘wider community’ through their refugee work, and regular family camps.This builds Christian credibility.

Here in starkest terms is the difference. While we as Anglicans have the riches of the tradition, and the knowledge about the other parts of the tradition that go with the fire lighting, for example, we have a sort of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ kind of attitude to it. The most common kind of convincing I have had to do as a priest is to convince people that 6.00 am in the morning, or 11.30 pm at night is a really good time to have Church at Easter. I talk about going fishing, or skiing, or A.N.Z.A.C. day when in Australia there is a dawn service that lots of people attend.

This is the juxtaposition I noticed, and which I want to Explore. My friends in Germany try something from the Catholic Tradition in an Evangelical Church and get 120 people at 6.00 am. What is that?

I think my spouse Robyn is right, in part, when she says ‘You don’t advertise it well enough’. I will be taking her up on this next Easter. If we have treasure (albeit in earthen vessels) then why not let people know.

The other thing that I think that my German friends have is that they have been where they are for a long time, but have used this time to make connections into their community and to earn a reputation for being caring beyond their own Church borders.

I think that as and English speaking group within a French speaking population we are at somewhat of a disadvantage here. But I think that we could easily do two things. First of all we could do a better job of advertising our treasures. I hope that will be in hand. Second, we could take a lesson from our Evangelical friends, and see just what a treasure it is we have, and participate in it fully. I havealready heard this coming from members of the congregation in their words of reflection on Easterlast Sunday. I have been greatly encouraged by that. I hope that we can do a bit better each year.

I also wonder how we might find ways of building or credibility in the community given our circumstances of a ‘shifting population’ which at the moment is small. Watch this space.

Continue reading

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

That is what I came to ov…

That is what I came to over this Easter. I was reminded again of all the forces at work within me, some of them loving, some of them dark. During holy Week I get a sense that I am being ‘lived’ by something, and that I am less a choosing person, than someone who is ‘lived by’ the forces that inhabit me. During holy week I want to give myself up to them, and let God make of me what God wants.

Reflection: 15-4-12

 

 When I was younger (about 1976) I was part of a seminar where the speaker handed out copies of this prayer by Brother Charles de Foucauld.

 

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

 

I was shocked. As a young person who had, of necessity as a child, to abandon himself into the hands of others, I did not like much what they had done to me. Here he was asking us to choose to do the same with God (who loves us) as we were forced to do with other adults (who loved us, but sometimes imperfectly). The direction was different, but the kind of movement was the same, and I did not like it.

 

But later, we sang the hymn

 

‘O breath of Life come sweeping through us

revive your church with life and power

O breath of life come cleanse, renew us

And fit your church to meet this hour.’

That I liked.

 

I got the picture of a kind of intoxication. God’s breath comes sweeping through. In this case I am also passive, but it is God who is sweeping through me, with my ‘Yes’ which seems so exciting. It does not compare, does it, with something that is reserved, and staid, and inexpressive. It speaks to me of a kind of abandonment to the power of god that then empowers me to do something.

 

This reminds me too of the idea of St. Paul, who talks about human life as a ‘determined’ existence. It is not an existence that we choose, but one where the milieu in which we allow ourselves to be determines how life goes. For St. Paul we can stand in the sphere (milieu) of God’s grace, or the sphere where God just leaves us alone to get on as best we can by our own devices. This is what we say just before the peace in Lent ‘Since wee have been justified by faith, we have peace with god, in the sphere of whose grace we now stand.’ (Rom. 5.1). It is that kind of a God from whom I ask that the ‘breath of life would come sweeping through me’

 

I remember reading about a number of conversions from the 19th Century. They were mostly women whose stories I read. They had been confined by the strictures of Victorian life, and then after their ‘giving up all their own will to god’ they found power to act in ways that were not usual for Victorian women. Many went to be missionaries. Some went into prison reform, or like Florence nightingale, reformed the whole of the nursing service. That is the kind of uninhibited action that I would like to show. It is not just ‘gushing’ but lasts the distance, and is directed to a particular goal, and can have a certain structure.

 

This I important for me because the strength of feeling is such, that I need a structure to hold and direct it.

 

Which brings me to the last quote for this reflection. It comes, again, from the book I mentioned. Alice miller writes this

 

‘ …the person who is dominated by the subjective factor is committed to a life of faith whether he (or she) likes it or not, since all their important mental processes are unconscious. But if they do not cont8inually seek expression for this faith, for this sense of the force by which they are lived, then it remains, unknown to themself, in the infantile stage of domination by ogres and ravening beasts, and the false opposition of gods of light and the underworld; and their dependence on the unseen will itself be a continual torment’

 

That is what I came to over this Easter. I was reminded again of all the forces at work within me,  some of them loving, some of them dark. During holy Week I get a sense that I am being ‘lived’ by something, and that I am less a choosing person, than someone who is ‘lived by’ the forces that inhabit me. During holy week I want to give myself up to them, and let God make of me what God wants.

 

That for me is the meaning of all the services. Because there are a lot of them, it requires that my brains and body be occupied with the ‘next thing’. It is not as if ‘normal life’ is going on, and Church is like a nice piece of lacework around the edge which is nice, but doesn’t really occupy my consciousness much, in comparison with all the other things that are going on. The amount of Church that is on puts being there at the forefront of my consciousness.

 

The other thing is that it is ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ in terms of times and profusion. There is nothing sadder for me than to come to palm Sunday, to find a few straggly palms placed desultorily in a corner. The senses have to be occupied so that like the hymn, one is ‘blown through’ by what is going on. This is also helped by the fact that we meet at strange times (8.00 pm, over-night in the chapel, 9.00 am, 11.30 pm). This also adds a certain excitement to the process.

 

So that is my Easter reflection. At Easter I do let myself get a bit ‘possessed’ but I hope that this being ‘occupied’ is an occupation that brings me closer to the reality of God

 

Continue reading

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Eucharist is a ‘tran…

The Eucharist is a ‘transformation’ or ‘transition’ engine

Let me tell you about my Muesli. This is what I eat every morning as my ‘break-fast’. I want good quality muesli. When we first came to Montreux, we looked around at the various kinds, and tried some out and then settled on one brand of ‘Bio’ muesli. But then something happened. I heard on the radio that nearly all breakfast cereals are full of sugar! I want to reduce my sugar intake. I wondered ‘should I change my muesli? Should I make my own?’ “Where would I get the ingredients from? There seems to be just so much that is pre-packaged here, I don’t know where I would get oats, and nuts and dried fruit from.

Because the business of breakfast is such an important thing, I want it to be settled. I have already been through the experimental phase and now I want that part of my life to be settled. This anxiety about the muesli comes from being in a state that is neither one thing nor another. It is by definition an ‘up in the air’ state where the person I am is neither one thing nor another. The natural movement of human organisms is toward a kind of equilibrium where things are settled, because the tension created by being neither one thing nor another drives us to a resolution.

But it is a mistake to settle on one brand of muesli too soon, or to assume that once I have settled on a brand of muesli, then that it is for all time. Sometimes companies change their recipe, so that what once was a very healthy recipe, ends up being less so. Sometimes they out their prices up by making the size of the container smaller.

Then it is necessary go back into the state of ‘playing’ with options about breakfast, until the right one comes up again. In fact it is this capacity to be ‘up in the air’ which marks healthy people. Much of life is about transition. Starting from the end, we make a final transition from life to death. But before then, we make the transition from being robust people to being frail people. We make the transition from not worrying about our health at all to spending a lot of time on doctors’ appointments. We make the transition from having lots of friends to fewer friends. We make the transition form having a life long partner (or nearly) to being on our own.  All of life is about loss and adjustment.

A book that I am reading at the moment calls this ability to live in transition as a ‘negative capability’, and defines a person as being able to live in uncertainty, mystery and doubt’ without reaching too soon for a conclusion.The picture of a healthy person is one who moves through transition trusting the process, and trusting that there is a healthy movement going on.

I am thinking about a caterpillar. Does the caterpillar know that it is going to turn into a beautiful butterfly? I don’t think so. The caterpillar just gives itself to the processes of life flowing through it, and there, one day it dies, to be come neither caterpillar or butterfly (except that we who know call it chrysalis.) But a Chrysalis looks dead. It is ‘being in a state of transition’, being neither one thing nor another.

Now religion has a function, for good or ill in being healthy or not. If I want to hold back the tide of continual transition, then I can bolster my sense of stability by being part of a religion where nothing changes. We sing ‘Change and decay in all around I see, O thou who changest not abide with me’. Religion is then, is put into the service of our neurotic fear of the changes and chances of this fleeting world. But some transitions ought not be resisted, but embraced as part of God’s plan to transform us into the likeness of Jesus.

This week I received two magazines from Anglican Churches in Switzerland. Both of them dealt with this theme. One, from Peter Potter in Berne said ‘Being afraid can seriously cramp your style. Fear of making mistakes or looking foolish often means that people don’t try.’ I know that about learning French. I am happiest making mistakes in the class, and with people whom I know like me, and I like them, because these relationships of love allow for ‘mistakes’. The class is a place of ‘sanctioned experiment and mistake making’. That is the way I will improve my French. Like the chrysalis the class is a time of ‘play’ which is allowed.

Roy Taylor in Geneva is changing the time of his AGM to try to get more people to come. He writes I ask you not to pre judge the matter’ It is an experiment…If the new time works, excellent. If not we can do something else.’ Roy is asking people to not approach a new situation with the question of ‘Is this right or wrong, is this good or bad. Do I like it or not?’ He wants his congregation to come with an attitude of positive play about their AGM.

But in some ways, Church is too important to muck around with, isn’t it? I bring my self to God in Church, and want to ‘touch base’ with God.  Like my choice of muesli, once I’ve found something that works, I don’t want to muck around with it. It is too important. That is why I think church worship becomes a bit ossified. If we are not using it as a neurotic bulwark against healthy transition, then Church functions as a genuine conduit between us and God.

The problem is that the Eucharist is a ‘transformation’ or ‘transition’ engine. In the Eucharist we are meant to be shaken up a bit so that we can hear God speaking to us anew. We participate in death, entombment and resurrection of Jesus so that we will be used to the natural transitions that life consists of, and able to trust God to hold us in them, as he held Jesus in the tomb, while he was ‘cooking’. What does not change in the Eucharist is its ability change us! What does not change in the Eucharist is the process of transformation that it represents, as we are joined to Christ’s ‘making all things new’. This is what we celebrate chiefly at Easter.

The Chaplaincy Council has been thinking about making some changes. These are chiefly designed to help us worship better. We will be entering into a time of ‘sanctioned play.’ This means for me as well as you approaching Sunday mornings with a sense of expectation and anticipation about what will happen. But like the muesli which has been chosen, there could be some of you who know what they want, and will be disturbed by others’ playing. This reflection is a recognition that I am like that too, to some degree. But I also know how stake and in a rut things can be if I don’t stay open to new experiences, and if I don’t let God ‘hold me’ as I trust God to carry me through the times of being ‘neither one thing nor the other’

Continue reading

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment