Monthly Archives: September 2012

The hymn ‘St Patrick’s …

The hymn ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ also mentions this kind of transgressive knowledge when it asks God to protect us from the following things:
Against all Satan’s spells and whiles
Against false words of heresy
Against the knowledge that defiles
Against the hearts idolatry
Against the wizards evil craft
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave the poisoned shaft
Protect me Christ till they returning.

Reflection 30-9-12

A phrase caught my attention from the wireless the other day in a talk given by professor Marcus Breen about his book ‘Uprising’. In talking about the internet, Dr Breen spoke of it as making a kind of knowledge available to us that he called ‘transgressive knowledge’. The idea is that because information can be acquired in private, behind a computer screen, some kinds of information that he calls ‘transgressive’ can be more easily acquired. He cites two cases: the knowledge about how to organise violent acts against the rest of us (bomb making, connecting with one another to organise) and pornography, which has become ever more easily available on the internet.

What struck me most of all  was the very idea of ‘transgressive knowledge’. What does this mean? To transgress is to cross a border. Previously we had censorship. The government decided what things people were or were not allowed to read or view. The liberals said ‘we are adults, we should be allowed to read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ if we want to! The Catholic Church still has a list of ‘banned books’ and anyone wanting to publish a book as a priest must obtain a ‘no objection’ from a competent authority.

So there are some boundaries that others, who had the power to decide for us, decided were not good for us to cross.

Here, we are immediately in the territory of our foundation mythology: the book of Genesis. Remember, God says ‘You can eat of everything in the garden except the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.’ To know the difference between good and evil is to have already experienced ‘transgressive knowledge’ in so far as one now has knowledge of evil as well as good.

This is what God says: ‘You will be in a paradise so long as you remain unknowingly innocent.’ But of course, our mythology, as a ‘story that never was true, but always is true’ means that we will always step over the boundaries of what we are supposed to know if we want to remain innocent. We will always acquire ‘transgressive  knowledge’.

What is it about this knowledge that makes people want to say ‘Don’t go there?’ Well when it comes to bomb making and organising for violence, it has been the prerogative of the state to have this knowledge. We call this knowledge ‘The Army’ and ‘Defence’. The problem with this kind of knowledge is that it gets into the hands of people whom most states don’t want to have it because it ‘transgresses’ their rights, as they have enforced them, to be the holders of such knowledge.

But because history is written by the winners, we are not yet in a position to know who are the ‘right’ people to be able to control the knowledge of violence. Todays ‘statesmen’ are yesterdays ‘terrorists’. The South African situation shows us that very clearly. That is also why governments are so angry about ‘Wickileaks’. The internet has made possible the leaking of knowledge that governments would rather have hidden. This kind of knowledge is ‘transgressive’ because the leaking of it transgresses some one’s ideas of what people should know.
 
So from a Judaeo-Christian point of view, the internet is just another re-run of the story of Adam (the man) and Eve (the mother of all living) in the Garden.

But I think that there are some kinds of knowledge that do damage us as human beings. Remember the prophet Isaiah (Ch 2:4) and his longing for the days when ‘..they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ To ‘study war’ is to have the kind of knowledge that Isaiah thinks crosses the boundary of what makes us human.

I remember watching a programme about the SAS training, and how brutalising it was. I asked a soldier about it on A.N.Z.A.C. Day and he said ‘Well, war is a pretty brutal business. In order to prepare people for it, you have to brutalise them a bit.’

When I was chaplain to the Youth Corrections in Victoria, my fellow chaplain was a former commando in Borneo in World War 2. He sometimes spoke of the burden of carrying the knowledge of what he did in the war. Even today there are hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being in Iraq or Afghanistan or vietnam. Some of this ‘disorder’ is brought on by the ‘transgressive knowledge’ that being in a war initiated them into.

The same is true of violent video games and pornography. Some of these images get us used to violence and degrading attitudes against others (the enemy in the case of video games) and women.

The hymn ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ also mentions this kind of transgressive knowledge when it asks God to protect us from the following things:
 
Against all Satan’s spells and whiles
Against false words of heresy
Against the knowledge that defiles
Against the hearts idolatry
Against the wizards evil craft
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave the poisoned shaft
Protect me Christ till they returning.

Do you notice that we need protection from the knowledge that defiles, not the truth that will set us free!

So is there any way back if we do, as we always will, have the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ or some ‘knowledge that defiles’?

The Exultet, that we sing on Easter Eve says ‘This is the night that with the brightness of the pillar hath purged away the darkness of iniquity. This is the night which doth separate those who believe in Christ from the wickedness of the age and from the darkness of transgressions, reneweth them unto grace, restoreth them to holiness…The mystery of this holy night putteth to flight the deeds of darkness, burgeth away sin: restoreth innocence to the fallen and gladness unto them that mourn: casteth out hatred, bringeth peace to all mankind, and boweth down mighty princes.’

Because ‘In Christ there is a new creation’ it is possible to come back from the ‘transgressive knowledge’  that damages our humanity. This is the meaning of living ‘the baptismal life’, where in reality, all that we have been is drowned, and we can come out of the font a new person. This is available in confession. This is also what is on offer every Sunday morning. There is transgressive knowledge that we are all exposed to. There is the possibility of renewed innocence!

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The people who have becom…

The people who have become ill with MS or any kind of disease have had the normal story of their lives interrupted, and perhaps changed. When a person who has one story ‘I am a mother, and I am bringing up children or caring for grandchildren’ gets ill, then that story is interrupted. Now they are sick. What story do they tell about those events? Some people say “I am a person who is ‘battling’ with MS. A battle has a beginning and an outcome too (like a swim). The person with MS or any illness is like the person in the water. They do not know the outcome of the story, or what story they are in exactly. That is the meaning of ‘being in the water’

I have been thinking some more about the swim across the lake that was undertaken by Frits Baaker and Rita on 8th September. I asked myself the question “Would it make any difference if the swimmers just went out into the middle of the lake, got into the water and swam for 13 km and got out again?” I think so. Why is this?

What comes to me is an awareness of some differences in the process.

First of all, there is a sense of ‘beginning and end’ based upon the difference between ‘on land’ and ‘not on land’ The swimmers go out from the land into the water, and then return to the land. This idea then is about having a visible and measurable goal. If life had no meaning, and was just one thing after another then the stream of life that we are in would be just like getting into the water from a boat and swimming 13 km and getting out. But the idea of going from ‘shore to shore’ implies a goal: going from land to land.

St. Aiden converted the king of Northumbria with a similar idea. He was talking to him, and a sparrow flew into the banqueting hall. The king said ‘The sparrow comes in to the hall, from we don’t know where and flies out to we don’t know where. We only see it for the brief time that it is in the hall. Life is like that. Where we come from and where we are going is a mystery. We only see our brief span here. Does Christianity have anything to say about that? St. Aiden explained that we come from God, and are going to God.

This means that as human beings, because we in the West see time as a straight line, we like to have small ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’ that give meaning to stretches of time and activity that are bounded by these ‘bookends’ of the ‘land -water -land’ triplet.

The other thing that happens is that for the time we are in the water, the story of our lives is about the journey of going from land, through water, to land. This means that we actually have a story to tell. This is also important. Having a story to tell about them, is what gives meaning to events. This is why it is important to connect some sicknesses to this kind of swimming event. The people who have become ill with MS or any kind of disease have had the normal story of their lives interrupted, and perhaps changed. When a person who has one story ‘I am a mother, and I am bringing up children or caring for grandchildren’ gets ill, then that story is interrupted. Now they are sick. What story do they tell about those events? Some people say “I am a person who is ‘battling’ with MS. A battle has a beginning and an outcome too (like a swim). The person with MS or any illness is like the person in the water. They do not know the outcome of the story, or what story they are in exactly. That is the meaning of ‘being in the water’

The people of Israel also had questions about the meaning of their story. They had prophets who told them ‘This is the meaning of your life. The people have been unfaithful to God. You are being punished. But God will be faithful if you repent.’ But sometimes they said ‘There is not one prophet left, there is no one who knows how long these things shall be’ Knowing the length of time a thing shall be is a way of coping with difficult situations.  

So that is the first good reason for getting into the water from land, and going to land.

The second thing that comes to me is that the getting into the water from land is a genuine ‘going out’. In comparison with just ‘swimming’ Unconsciously we do this with music too. A piece of music like the verse of a hymn starts, then ‘goes away’ from the beginning note, and then ‘comes back’ to the place where we were.

This ‘going out’ means risk. Interestingly enough the anthropologists talk about this process of ‘putting something at stake, or taking a risk’ as a ‘liminal’ state. This comes from the Greek word ‘limnos’ a lake!! So it is fitting that when a person ‘goes out’ and makes a project for a particular purpose, before they are at their goal, they are in a ‘state of being in the lake’!

I have written before about this, but it is worth repeating here. Every football game is a kind of artificial ‘liminal state’ because we create a beginning, contest, and end out of the game. But the Eucharist is a similar kind of event. When we ring the bell to begin the process, we begin a journey of the soul where the process that is up for grabs is ‘Will we hear God’s Word, understand where we are before God and allow ourselves to be healed or forgiven? Will we have ‘communion with God?’ The alternative, which makes a mockery out of coming to church, or makes it boring is that we resist. The Bible talks of people being ‘stiff necked’ or the prophet Ezekiel says ‘Whether or not they listen, they will know that there is a prophet among them.’ We do not open ourselves to God. This is also possible. But the Eucharist is designed to be like getting into the lake and heading for the other side.

The last thing that is worth saying about this process of ‘getting into the water’ is that the swim is exactly like a baptism. In the process of being baptized, or renewing our baptismal vows, we step away from our old lives and ‘undress ourselves’ psychically, and plunge (baptizo in the verb ‘to plunge’) into the water. There is some risk that we will not come out the other side. Then we ‘put on’ Christ and live a new life.

The period of time between stepping into the water, and coming out the other side in the sacrament of baptism is exactly like swimming the ‘lake’. In baptism we risk something. That is why we talk about the Eucharist as being the repeatable part of our Baptism. Being baptized means once in a lifetime having our ‘being’ connected to Christ’s ‘being’. We repeat this process and ‘re-connect’ with Christ in ‘communion’ with him in the Eucharist.

This is the largest story it is possible to tell. When the normal story of our lives is disrupted by illness or disease or events, then we are plunged again into the lake of uncertainty. But because we have been baptized, we can say one thing for sure, whose truth is guaranteed by God ‘My life is hid with Christ in God.’

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David Williams and Frits…

David Williams and Frits know that their moral responses to disease or injustice is to do something. To make some kind of performance.

Reflection 16-9-12

Last Saturday I experienced one of the privileges of the priestly life. Frits Bakker, the brother of a Montreux resident, swam across the lake from Evian to Vidy in Lausanne (about 13 km). He was doing this because recently his sister died from MS at the age of 50. Frits was accompanied n the water by another swimmer, Rita, and lots of us on boats, including Austen who guided them on a kyak. I was on one of the boats.

Before we left the shore Rita asked me if I would give the two of them a blessing which, after obtaining Frits’ permission, I was glad to do. It was thjis first request that started me thinking.

Australia is such a secul ;ar country, that it is rare for people to request the involvement of priests, or religious people in everyday life. But twice now, I have been asked to do ‘priestly work’ in places where I was not necessarily expectng it. (The other occasion was the blessing of a couple who after lots of trials and tribulations renewed their weding vows). I just feel so happy to be able to offer God’s blessing, in what ever people are doing. Another person is in distress, and has said ‘come and pray with me’. And I have prayed for them each morning at morning prayer, and will go to their place soon to pray with them.

Sometimes people don’t feel worthy to receive the blessing. Frits said ‘Oh, I hacven’t been to confession for a long time’. I am reminded of people in australia saying ‘If I came to Church, the roof would fall in’. But I say ‘If you came to church, you would find your seat with your name on it waiting for you !’ So I was also happy to convey the good news that there is no ‘If’ «’Then’ clause with God. (If you go to confession and tell me how sinful you are, then I will take you back’). There is plenty of room for for reviewing one’s life, and regretting all that has not been right. But I’m sure that when a person says ‘Please, now I would like a blessing’ God, like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son is already running toward that person with God’s ‘Yes’.

This is what I try to do too in the congregation. If people are going on holidays, or if they are going into hospital, or if people are sick then it is a wonderful privelege for them, and for me to be able to call down God’s blessing upon them before they go. This is part of what members of the Church have by right. Sometimes false modesty or an over active sense of privacy prevents people from receiving these gifts from God. But I think that especially in the congregation, to give and receive these blessings is part of what makes us into the body of Christ. Of course the consent to be blessed must be freely given, but I think that the direction of flow should be more toward this kind of sharing than not.

Then I began to think about the actual swim itself. Frits decided to swim the lake a year ago, just after his sister died. He wanted to do something to raise money for all of the other people who are suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Strangely enough, I happened so see exactly the same thing on TV this week. David Williams, of ‘Little Brtiain’ fame swam the english Channel only nine months after visiting Ethopia. He went to an orphanage and saw a number of young girls. He wad told ‘Each of these young girls whom we have rescued from the streets of Addis Abbaba has been raped’ David Williams said ‘It was like a sword piercing my heart, I had to do something when I got home’. So he swam the channell !
 
Both of these people have been motivated to do something with their bodies. They have literally ‘put their bodies on the line’ for something that has deeply touched their souls. What is that !?

There are some ethics scholars who are talking about morality as ‘performance’. That is, our moral views or attitudes to certain conditions (like MS or the state of people in Ethiopia) has to be ‘performed.’ Here is a quote from one of them, Stanley Hauerwas. “Religious belief is not just some kind of primitive metaphysics, but in fact it is a performance just like you’d perform Lear. What people think Christianity is, is that it’s like the text of Lear, rather than the actual production of Lear. It has to be performed for you to understand what Lear is – a drama. You can read it, but unfortunately Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.” Another scholar, Richard Norris says the same ‘Christianity is a divinely authored play, whose first and actual performance will be in the age to come., What we are about now is learning our parts.’

So although I think it is unconscious, both David Williams and Frits know that their moral responses to disease or injustice is to do something. To make some kind of performance.

St. Paul urges us to ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice’. This is his way of saying ‘Do something!!’ Or St. John’s saying ‘It is by showing how you love one another that the World will come to believe’.

This is what the martyrs were doing. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’. So with their bodies, the martyrs were ‘witnessing’ to their faith. In the early days of Christianity, after the time when being a martyr was an option, people still wanted to ‘perform’ the truth of the faith by doing something. So they went out into the desert where the daemons lived to do battle with them there, on their own turf. They sat up poles to show how little they cared for the things of this world. Their message is ‘We are prepared to risk something, we are prepared to undergo pain and discomfort because there is something else more important that we want to point to, and to draw your attention to, for God’s sake’  This is what St. Patrick did too in lighting his fire before the king’s fire at Easter.

In other parts of the culture, people put on what is called ‘demonstration events’. They say ‘let us show you what our product can do’. This is exactly what I think Frits and David were doing. There is something more important (MS or injustice) that needs your attention. I am performing the ‘sacrament’ of this issue in my own body so that you will do something to help.

This too is what we need in the Church. Each Sunday morning that you go to Church, you are beginning to ‘perform’ the faith, because your presence is a witness to a reality that needs people’s attention. But we need more. We need visible signs (like our mutual, infectious love for one another, like alllowing ourselves to be blessed) to be our ‘witness’ to the bigger issue.

I’m glad that Frits and Rita did their ‘performance’ in the framework of the blessing of God, because that prayer completed the meaning of their swim.

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Is this miracle any diffe…

Is this miracle any different from what happened in Jesus’ day? I don’t think so. The situation is still one of people who are brought close to God, and who give thanks.

Last Tuesday, we began a new ‘Gospel Reflection’ group. We looked at the story of Jesus healing the daughter of the Syro-Phonecian woman, and a man who could not speak.

One of the people present asked the question ‘Why is it that we do not see such miracles today?’ This prompted me to think about the same question. Here are my reflections on the matter.

The first thing that comes to me to wonder about is this. If there were to be someone like Jesus walking around doing his ‘thing’ and we could see a blind man getting his sight back, and people healed of evil spirits, what would it get us that we don’t already have? Is there an effect that would be guaranteed?

I don’t think so. Even in Jesus’ day, people who saw what he did, did not believe in him. Remember the accusation that the Pharisees made against Him? ‘It is by the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’ People were always asking for a sign. St. Paul says ‘The Jews seek signs and wonders, and the Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ, and him Crucified!!’ Take that!

The problem with our asking for a miracle is that it leaves us at the centre of the universe, not God. We are the ones who ask God to do a miracle so that we will believe. We are the ones who determine what a miracle will be. Who God is for us is determined by us. Miracles are like drugs of dependence. One is great, but then why not have more? What will convince us? If we are of a mind not to be convinced, then nothing will convince us.  Looking for miracles and ‘proofs’ means in the long run that we are worshiping not God, but ourselves.

God wants us to love God, for himself. It’s like a marriage relationship. If there is love and trust within the marriage bond, then everything that happens is a miracle and a cause for giving thanks. If the bond of trust has been broken by repeated broken promises or a large infidelity, then nothing that the person can do can ‘prove’ that they are restored. The other person just has to begin to trust them again, without proof.

I love the Celtic way of looking at things. St. Brendan went on a sailing trip across the Atlantic. On the way he saw miracles: ‘That great leviathan whom you formed to sport in the deep,’ ( a whale) and palaces made of crystal (Icebergs). Everything that St. Brendan saw was conditioned by eyes that had long been used to seeing the works of God and God’s wonders in the deep, because he had been a lover of God for a long time. For St. Brendan, everything was a miracle, because God was acting everywhere.

Who can say when God is specifically acting? You know the story. I am looking for a car park. I pray. The god of car parks provides one for me! ‘Thank you God’ I pray. But was it really God who provided the car park for you or was it going to be there any way? Even if the car park was going to be there any way, from inside a relationship with God, one can properly say ‘Thank you God.’ But even if you have to do something else, it is also possible to say ‘Thank you God.’ But after particularly horrible events, when we have been rescued, or have come out the other side, the seriousness of the events make us say with an especially full heart ‘Thank you God.’  

This story was told to us on Tuesday night too. The relative of one person present had an illness that was debilitating. Their life, which was already limited by age, was further limited by this new condition. But thanks to the doctors, the new condition was reversed. The person in the group said ‘That is a miracle! Thank you God. My relative’s life would have been so much worse, had not the doctors been able to reverse their condition.’ There is a person recognising God’s love for them in a particular way, and giving thanks. Is this any different from what happened in Jesus’ day? I don’t think so. The situation is one of people who are brought close to God, and who give thanks. As St. Paul urges us ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks (Eucharistise!), for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus’. He doesn’t say ‘for’ everything give thanks. But ‘in’ everything. Not everything is what we want. But everything happens within our relationship with God and for that we can give thanks.

At the end of the Gospel John writes that what he has written is so that people will believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that people will have life in His name. But even after Easter, when Thomas was convinced that Jesus had risen, Jesus says to him (about us!) ‘Blessed are you Thomas because you have seen and believed, but more blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed in me.’

But there is one thing about ‘signs’ that we need to think about too. Jesus says in the controversy with the Pharisees about by what power he casts out daemons ‘But if it is by the finger of God I cast our daemons, then know that the Reign of god has come among you’.

Jesus makes a clear connection between the arrival of the reign of God, and people’s being possessed by other powers. This is a sign. John’s gospel is also full of signs that Jesus did. These are not necessarily ‘miracles’ but things that are meant to point beyond themselves, to direct people to God. GA legitimate question then would be to ask ‘What kind of action would ‘count’ as a kind of ‘demonstration’ of the power of God and the presence of Christ in the Church for people who were genuinely seeking?

Well, there are many. The early Church had martyrs which convinced some people. After that, there were the desert monks who did all kinds of things (like sitting on poles) to show their disdain for the ‘world’. Some people are convinced today by the ‘leg lengthening’ miracles (apart from the knowledge that every one has one leg longer than the other).

 I remember one seeker who was convinced by the faith story of a member of our congregation as she forgave the young man who was driving the car in which their daughter was killed. The seeker said ‘I want what she’s got!’ I find most convincing the idea that the power of the resurrection is present in the Church when we see people who as adults are coming to Christ, having their lives transformed, and being baptized.

Whatever the answer is, it is true that we have to so live out our relationship with Christ, that it shows some how. ‘Let you light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify God.’
Maybe this is the ting that we find ‘missing’

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