What is a Merry Christmas – Recieving​ or Agitating

Whilst I have been a Christian all my life, and held and continue to hold leadership positions in my denomination for over 30 years in various capacities, much of the wonder of the cycles of the Christian year have alluded me.

I have often struggled to do the giving up things for Lent, and as a kid, I never had the Advent Calendar.

Both of these are periods of waiting and preparation.

This year, I have had a much greater sense of waiting during Advent than ever before in my life, but more about that latter.

Earlier on Christmas morning, my Facebook posts have been more political than they have ever been.

It was intriguing at my own Church this morning, for the Christmas Day celebration, our Minister chose for the children’s talk the book, “Jesus was a refugee” by Andrew McDonough.

He was getting political.

In the context of Australia, where our successive Governments have hidden people who seek refugee status in Australia, are taken on the high seas, and then moved to third countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea. There they are hidden from the Australian population at extraordinary cost, level without the medical and humanitarian support that Australia can provide. They wallow away therewith increasing mental and physical health issues, many contemplating suicide.

During the service I posted on Facebook that our Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Border Force should be sitting on the carpet steps of our church with the children, to be reminded that the person they so willingly call upon for religious political advantage, became a refuge. Yet if Jesus were to be a boat person approaching Australia, he would be rejected and sent away, and placed within an abusing system.

We should be reminded of what the Bible tells us around Herod attempt to destroy God’s child:

Matthew 2:13-15 : (13) Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (14) Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, (15) and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (NRSV)

There are so many people in the world whose lives are being destroyed by political leaders in our world, famine, war and many other attempts to remove people based on their skin colour, their religion, their gender or sexual orientation.

Yet today, it is our Christian leaders here in Australia, the USA and many other countries who are rejecting these refugees, many of whom are refugees because of past policies of the very same countries.

Our Minister went on to describe what he doesn’t like about Christmas, one of the three being “the baby”.

It seems our thinking was in synch today.

Earlier in the day, on my personal FaceBook account, I had published a political commentary, calling for us to focus more on who Jesus became and stood for, rather than the nicety of the birth.

Many of Australia’s major religions are mirroring the United States of America with a call for special religious freedom, which I call religious privilege.

In the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney continues his theme that religion in Australia, in particular, Christianity, needs special protection by the State. In his homily he comments:

“One freedom endangered at the moment is freedom of conscience and belief. Around the world devastatingly high numbers of people are dead, damaged or displaced for their faith every year because some people want to homogenise human beings, control them, and use power, even violence, to do so.[2]

No-one dies for their faith here in Australia, thank God, but we are not immune to threats to religious liberty. A year ago there were promises of new measures to ensure that freedom is protected in this country; a year later and all we’ve had are more promises… Meanwhile, discrimination against people of faith has become more acceptable in some quarters. There have been moves to undermine the Sacrament of Confession, to defund Catholic schools, to charge an Archbishop with discrimination for teaching about marriage, to deny faith-based institutions the right to choose what kind of community they will be. Tonight, as we join the angels in our carols, both glorifying God and pacifying people, some are demanding we choose between the two. Some want us to put the Christ-child away with the Christmas decorations, so He has no claim on the year ahead.” (source: https://www.sydneycatholic.org/homilies/2018/homily-for-the-midnight-mass-of-the-nativity-of-the-lord/ referenced 25 December 2018).

What is sad, is the misrepresentation of facts for Christianity to move under the protection of the State. Whilst he notes that no one in Australia is dying for their religion, many people in Australia have died because of who they are, and the church rejects, as an example, LGBTIQ people. In Australia’s history, as recently as early 2000s, LGBTIQ people have been murdered for simply being who they are. LGTBIQ people are actively discriminated in Australian society. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney conveniently ignores this.

For clarity, the reference to undermining the Sacrament of Confession is a move by some State Governments in Australia to require Priests to report people who sexually abuse children even if advised of this during confession. This is consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Many religious organisations have failed to fully own, repent and respond to the thousands of children in Australia and even more internationally, who have been sexually and physically abused by religious people.

For further clarity, let’s explore the conversation on defunding Catholic Schools and discrimination on marriage and denying faith-based organisations the right to choose what type of community they want to be. So what is the context here? In 2017 the people of Australia, after the first public vote in Australia’s history on a matter of social and civil rights (all prior restoration of rights have been simply dealt with by Parliament), which was abusive, the people of Australia requested, by a significant majority of voters, that Parliament amend the Marriage Act to allow two people to marry. Embedded in the modification of the Marriage Act were protections for Ministers of Religion not to have to marry two people (as distinct from a man and a women), even if their denomination requires them to, and also protects religious organisations from having to hold weddings of two people on their property.

To appease the conservative right of the Australian Government, the then Prime Minister Turnbull agreed to an inquiry into Religious Freedom. The inquiry was held in secret, the report provided to the Government in May 2018, but only officially released in December 2018 under pressure. The release was forced due to the Government having to call a by-election for the former Prime Minister’s seat when the report’s recommendations were leaked.

These recommendations laid bare to the Australian public that religious schools had special powers to discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers.

The students and parents of many of these schools and society, in general, reacted with dismay, not realising that our Governments had provided these special religious privileges to religious and other non-government schools. Whilst the inquiry recommendation was aimed at reducing the level of discrimination, the public became aware that discrimination existed, would continue and do not approve.

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and other Sydney religious leaders have for months been calling for special religious privileges that allow their organisation’s special rights to discrimination that no other organisations, public or private. have the right to in Australia. The call for cutting of funding for Catholic Schools is based in that context. If Catholic Schools want the right to discriminate, should they not use their own wealth, rather than be dependent on State funding of their schools?

Yet the man whose birth we recall today didn’t want special religious privileges.

In fact, he came to challenge, not only the government of the day but also the religious leaders about the core message of God, which we hear in the interchange between Jesus and the lawyer in Luke’s narrative (10:25-28):

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”” (NRSV)

There are no exclusions or exemptions in this interchange between Jesus and the lawyer. If there was anyone you think Jesus would be clear about any exemptions or exclusions it would be a lawyer, but there isn’t any.

The fight around religious privilege (aka freedom), is not about some nice general principle. It is very targeted. Just as the Ruddock Inquiry was, it is how religious organisations are to obtain special privileges to discriminate against LGBTIQ people. Yet Jesus, having created many opportunities to enunciate who should be excluded, never does.

Jesus is very political.

He overturns the tables at the temple. To me, the message to the two Archbishops of Sydney is you don’t need special religious privileges, what you need is to reflect on the nature of Jesus, his message of love and inclusion. Be prepared to present your arguments for discrimination. You no longer have the automatic right for your opinions to be maintained as fact and consequential legislation in our society. When the Catholic Church continues to call LGBTIQ people intrinsically disordered, in spite of all the evidence, medical and psychological, you are forcing an ideology that is out of step with knowledge and good values. When some of our major Churches in Australia continue to support and fund “gay conversion therapy”, when society knows that you can’t pray away red hair for black hair, or pray away brown eyes for blue eyes, you also can’t pray away someone innate sexual orientation.

Just as society’s acceptance of religious organisations has diminished due to their response to child sexual abuse, they are no longer tolerating the abuse of LGBTIQ people through “pray away the gay therapies”. Yes, you can dye your hair, or put in contact lenses to make your eye blue. At the end of the day, your red hair roots will reappear, and you can’t keep contact lenses in forever and the brown eyes will become visible again. Many people have tried to suppress the sexual orientation to become acceptable to religious people, but at the end that ends up often at best with severe mental health issues, and unfortunately at worse suicide.

Jesus talked about looking after those that are hungry and thirsty, strangers, sick, in prison. These political statements of Jesus are still very real today. Our political economic structure in the west has created enormous wealth for a few and poverty, hunger and thirst for so many around the world at an increasing rate.

Governments are being sued in the USA because the private prison providers don’t have enough prisoners, and here in Australia, I expect in the upcoming NSW State election, we will have many demands for putting more and more people in prison, with no support at all, which will lead to an increase in the perpetual cycle of poverty for them and their extended families, at greater cost to our society.

In the USA and Australia, the conservative side of politics, the same that focus on their “Christian Values” are usually the very ones that want to dismantle national health care for the sick in our countries.

So today, Christmas Day, if wish to sing the joyful carols celebrating the birth of Christ, please do so, but in your other hand, have the rest of the story.

This child is immediately a refugee.

This child grows rapidly to disrupt religion and politics of the day.

If we are to celebrate the birth of Christ, then we must be ready to challenge the religious and the political rulers of the day using the issues and values of the Christ.

I started by talking about this Advent has been the first Christmas when I have had the sense of waiting.

The birth of Jesus today hasn’t ended my waiting. My denomination in the middle of the year, after so many years, decades of debate, prayer, talking, listening, decided that there is a valid theological position to allow two persons to marry. As a concession to those who struggled with this, the Church decided that it would allow two parallel doctrines of marriage, identical in all material ways, with one key difference, one uses the terms a man and a women, and the other two people. No minister was forced to use either, and no parish was forced to allow the marriage of two persons on their properties.

Unfortunately, a number of the conservative presbyteries are using a historically never used part of the church’s constitution to suspend this decision, and in my mind, their arguments are built on lies. Their position is about power. Yes, Jesus was and is a very powerful individual, but his central teaching was inclusion and love. He regularly challenges the abuse of power. The next chapter in the misuse of the church’s constitution is in early January 2019, that is what I am waiting for.

This advent I have heard about waiting, and it has forced me to think more deeply than ever about what this birth of Jesus is all about, the birth is the start of a radical journey.

Jesus was a radical, he was inclusive, he spoke of love, he challenged the religious rulers and the political rulers of the day.

If you admire the baby Jesus, then you are called into his radical inclusion, his radical love and his racial challenge of all those that stand in the way of these two elements of what we are called to; Love God, Love One Another.

We are not receiving a child, we are about to hear about an agitator, we are about to hear about the offending of the religious and the political rulers, offending so much that he was hung on a cross.

With this gentle meek and mild Child, we are all called to be Jesus’ agitators.

Sydney Prayer Breakfast – “Freedom From” or “Freedom For” I think they got it wrong

This morning (30May 2018), I had an opportunity to attend the Sydney pray breakfast at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. This is an annual event, and one of many such events are held around Australia around this time of year.

The prayer breakfast has many activities during the morning, including Grace thoughtfully given by a high school student, to a beautiful set of musical items by Tash Lockhart and support musicians and then some genuinely inspirational prayers provided by some city business leaders.  We also had an opportunity to pray with people on our tables which was very helpful.

The guest speaker, Os Guinness, I had some trepidations in listening too. I found his talk interesting, but in the end in my mind, his arguments pointed to the dangers in Australia of the current movement of the so-called “religious freedom” requirements. I fully acknowledge my own theological biases in considering his speech.

He talked of the grand paradox of freedom, and the fact that one of the enemies of freedom is itself freedom, that freedom requires a framework, built around self-restraint, which often gets washed away over time. When Neville Cox, the chairman of the city prayer breakfast gave his welcome and introduction, we were shown a short video of the late Billy Graham and his extraordinary preaching when he was in Sydney in the 1950’s. When I look at lack of restraint in the Christian movement at the moment, I see one example being Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, who in my mind exemplifies why Christianity is struggling in the Western society. His lack of self-restraint and misuse of the Bible to condemn the other, to support further power to the powerful over the week, is the total opposite of what I see in the gospel.

Guinness then went on to talk about the need to be clear about what one means by freedom, is it the power to do what we ought, is it “freedom from” (a negative connotation), or “freedom for”? Where he talked about freedom for, he indicated this is a higher order, to be who we are, to be the truth of who we are, and knowing that the truth will set you free.

His third point was looking at shouldering full responsibility for that political freedom, that countries win freedom, we order freedom, but we often overlook the process of sustaining freedom. This was the segue to the importance of handing down the concept of freedom, and in our context the freedom that is given through the Bible to generations, the importance of transmitting our faith to generations behind us.

We then received the link to the underlying question, do we know and stand for a solid foundation in a society, that is, in his opinion, curtailing religious freedoms.

He left his message there, but one was left with no doubt as to the purpose and meaning of his message. At the end of the prayer breakfast John Anderson, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, a friend of Guinness, then gave the thanks and a prayer for Guinness. In Anderson’s commentary, he talked about the importance of an understanding of history and culture of our country and the need for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. He pointed out the significance that Oz Guinness had recent access to the Prime Minister, and again we were left in no doubt that this was in connection to the context of the current enquiry into religious freedom that is currently taking place in Australia.

What struck me this morning was the juxtaposition of the prayers that beautifully enunciating the need to pray for and support for the poor and the marginalised, that our business and civic leaders need to use our Christian values as a guiding post to all that we do, and the importance of support, encouragement and learning for young people, against the underlying tone and the means of the religious freedom debate.

You see it is interesting that the churches in Australia have for decades rejected the need for religious freedom and a charter of human rights because they feared that such charters would constrain what they perceive as higher order rights.

Guinness spoke of the need to move away from the concept of “freedom from” which is negative to the “freedom for”. And yet the religious freedom movement, as demonstrated at the moment, is actually all about the “freedom from”.

What they’re wanting is freedom from LGBTIQ people, and the evidence of that is that this demand has come around because of civil union of same gendered people in Australia even though Parliament ensured that religious organisations had exemptions from having to participate in a religious marriage of same-gender people. But this very issue has been the launching pad of this desperate desire of the conservative religious movement in Australia to have freedom from LGBTIQ people.

What they’re wanting is freedom from all LGBTIQ people being employed in religious organisations and the right for Christian business people to have the religious right to not employe LGBTIQ in commercial/secular businesses. They want the right to discriminate against all LGBTIQ people actively. Now I can accept that if a person in a school was employed solely for the role of religious education within the doctrines of that particular Christian organisation, to be constrained by those religious tenants. I disagree with the theology and hermeneutics that lead them to that position, I can acknowledge that right.

But I cannot accept the right of a Christian school to be allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff member force being simply who they are. How does this influence their effectiveness as an office staff member, maths teacher, cleaner, kitchen staff? You see this is where the disconnect occurs Guinness talks about when you have freedom for the truth will set you free, and yet these very people do not want LGBTIQ people to be free, they do not want the LGBTIQ people to be who they are as was said when we prayed to be recognised as made in the image of God. They don’t want all LGBTIQ people to have the “freedom for” to be who they are to be true and for the truth of who they are made in the image of God, to be set free.

We prayed for the children in our schools, and we know that in all of our schools, in the secular and the religious schools, there are LGBTIQ kids. And yet, what the religious freedom people want is not religious freedom for these young people they want freedom against them. They do not want a teacher in their school who might be gay and Christian who can support the Christian teachings and be a symbol of hope for a young gay teenager in school.

Rather than hoping the freedom for that young teenager to be who they are, to accept the truth of who they are and to be set free in who they are; what they want, is protection from the state. As governments around the world recognising that “conversion therapy” is nothing but abuse, those who are fervent for religious freedom are saying we want freedom from government interference to stop the abuse of LGBTIQ people with the horrors of “conversion or restorative therapy”, which often leads to suicide or long-term damaging mental health issues. They want the freedom from government stopping churches abusing of kids and young adults, rather than freedom for these people to be entirely acceptable of who they are.

John Anderson let the cat out of the bag, with his closing comments in thanks of Guinness that everybody should have freedom of conscience. This, in fact, is code for the Christian baker beings allowed to discriminate against LGBTIQ couple wanting to get married and have a wedding cake.

Guinness asked us to consider the need to be clear and ask what do we mean by freedom. The dangers of this religious freedom movement are, whilst its core is around the freedom from LGBTIQ people, it does not understand what it means by freedom.

What it wants to do is to break what has been a remarkable aspect of our Australian society wherein the commercial marketplace we don’t discriminate. I can’t say to a Muslim because I’m a Christian I won’t serve you in my shop. I’m also a Muslim business owner can’t say to a Jewish custom I won’t serve you because you’re Jewish. An Indian business in Australia should not be allowed to refuse to provide services to a Pakistani customer.

Should a Christian business owner who believes that interfaith marriage offends his faith have the right to discriminate against an employee on that ground?

But this is where we are heading with this religious freedom that my religious conscience is more important than your rights, because some people are so fearful of the LGBTIQ community.

The unintended consequences of this movement in the Australian context is extraordinarily risky, and is more than likely to bring fracturing and destabilising of our society and our economy because they have not thought through what their view of freedom means.

The other thing that struck me with this prayer breakfast was the focus on the Old Testament. I thought as Christians that we are the Jesus people, and yet it seemed to me that in this prayer breakfast Jesus was missing, rarely mentioned, except for in the conclusion of a prayer in the name of Jesus.

His Gospel of hope, His Gospel of inclusion, His Gospel of love, was completely missing when we were talking about freedom this morning.

And it seems to me, that if Jesus were here today, talking and engaging in the religious freedom argument, he would be visiting the people around the Wayside Chapel who are homeless. He would be asking questions of the religious leaders and the governments why are there are so many homeless people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world?

It seems to me that if Jesus were contemplating these issues of religious freedom, he would be reminding our Archbishops, our Moderators our Priests and Ministers of the story of the young man who was born blind. Today he might find a young man walking out of a counselling session at ACON Health. Jesus doesn’t use the story of the healing of the young man born blind to talk about healing; instead, the story uses the young man was the entry point into the narrative.

Remember that it was his own apostles who were asking the question at to why the man was blind because he was a sinner, and frankly how could be a sinner be born blind, or was it that his parents were a sinner and this was the consequence of their sin. This is often the line of the preachers of the those who are seeking religious freedom, where is the sin, however we need to recall that Jesus wanted none of that thinking. The religious freedom movement in Australia who want religious freedom from LGBTIQ people, fail to accept that being an LGBTIQ person is not a choice and not a consequence of sin.

I think if Jesus were healing the young man coming out of his counselling session at ACON health because he was struggling with the abuse from his church and his family because he was gay, the healing Jesus would be offering is not anything to do with his sexuality because Jesus would know that he was born in God’s image, but it would be the healing of the mental anguish from what has been done to him by others.

And we follow the story of that young man when the Pharisees of the religious leaders the Priests and the Archbishops in today’s language, were horrified that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and challenged the parents and you can see the tensions today if you have a gay child there are so many churches that follow exert this concept of religious freedom that says you have to choose between your child and our church and God, and regrettably that child ends up wandering the streets of King’s Cross and is supported by the Wayside Chapel. It was those religious leaders who threw that young man who was healed out of the Synagogue. It was Jesus who then circled back to the young man and said, hey you’re with me, come on a journey with me.

John Anderson finished up by saying we need to understand history and culture of our country to justify the demand for religious freedom. I agree with the first part; we need to understand history and culture, we also need to understand the context of the time when the Hebrew and the Gospel Bible was written. Then we might realise what true religious freedom is, it is not about lying in bed with government to allow religious organisations to exclude the other. When we understand the context of the culture of the Biblical writings, we understand this is not an attack on LGBTIQ people, we then learn that freedom is really about.

What is discovered is that freedom is the understanding of a loving God, the loving of all others with no asterisk to exclude some. We discover that when we help people be who they are, and helping people accept the truth of who they are and then knowing this truth, will, in fact, set them free and all of us free to be with Christ and God.

So Guinness and Anderson this morning I think enunciated the opposite of what they intended, because they fear the other, they will continue to fight for religious freedom to be a “freedom from” rather than “freedom for”.

Where would Jesus be on identity politics?

(Trinity Sunday 11 June 2017)

It is has been a while since I posted a blog – I was honest at the beginning of the blog that I may be a little erratic.

Partly work, partly undertaking some course/study and partly a little of the “black dog” has been hanging around a bit.

I have been struggling to put something  together , so many ideas running around my mind, but not forming a coherent flow.

Today I attended a Pride Rally in Sydney.  Many of the Pride Marches around the world are the month of June, summer time.  It is winter here, and the main Pride event in Sydney is the Mardi Gras held in March, at the end of our summer and beginning of Autumn.

The focus of the rally was to raise awareness that in countries such as Australia and the USA where there have been positive movements for LGBITQ rights, and countries where Human Rights have been a core foundation, however in recent months there has been a reversing momentum on LGBTIQ rights.  Many of these backward actions, or attempts to stop LGBTIQ rights progress have often been led by fundamentalist evangelical Christians and the political (religious) rights.

One of the speakers at the rally used the phrase “identity politics”.  This has been one of the strategies of that group of fundamentalist evangelical Christians with right wing politics to create the concept of identity politics to devalue people who are different to them and in some sense abuse them by comments like “lifestyle choices” when being LGBTIQ is how you are born.

The thought that hit me standing in the winter rain in Sydney between the St Andrews, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral (a Sydney based denomination part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to oppress LGBTIQ people and provides global leadership on that mission) and the secular Sydney Town Hall, “Where Would Jesus be on Identity Politics?”

Then a number of Biblical stories hit me how to answer this question, and I had been writing some of this without knowing it, but the topic brought these strains together.

During the recent course that I did over two consecutive weekends we undertook a high level overview of the Hebrew Bible, helping us understand some of the context, history on how the Hebrew Bible was constructed and to help us understand it on another level for when we are in a situation where we may be involved in preaching or leading a group.

One book we explored was Ruth and for me through a lens that I had not previously worn.

So the quick run through:

  • There was a famine, and a man and his wife left Bethlehem to go to Moab, with their two sons.
  • So we have people leaving their country due to a famine, they are refugees, and they were able to remain there.
  • The husband dies, and Naomi is left with two sons.  This is not a great situation in those days, to be a single mother.
  • Eventually the two sons married (this may be the only way that Naomi would be able to survive), their wives were Orpah and Ruth.
  • 10 years later the two sons dies, now Naomi had no husband nor sons.
  • Naomi with her two daughter-in-laws started out to return from Moab.
  • Naomi told her two daughter-in-laws to return to Moab.
  • After discussions and tears, Orpah turned back to Moab and Ruth decided to continue with her to Judah.
  • When they arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi was remember, and now Ruth was the outsider.
  • Naomi and Ruth lived of the land, reaping the left overs in the field under Boaz, the land owners protection
  • Ruth eventually married Boaz (after some commercial trading) and they had a son Obed, whose son was Jesse who would have a child David, the famous David, and from that line we flor through to Jesus.

In this story, we have Ruth and her sons becoming refugees into a foreign land, marry, and the males die.  Then Ruth and one of her daughter-in-laws came back to Judea, and they are on the outside of society as widows, and eventually we see the linage to one of the most important Hebrew Bible people David, and then onto Jesus.

It is important to remember that widowed women don’t have any real protection in their society at that point in history, were refugees, essentially outcasts in various societies, and yet provide the lineage to David and through to Jesus.  It seems to me given this family history, Jesus would be very open to those who are different, be that from their race and ethnicity, position in society,  we know he walked with those who were disabled, and included in being different are those with different sexual orientation.

I’m finally putting this together on Trinity Sunday 2017, which has a number of interesting lectionary readings.  The Hebrew Bible text for the day is the first creation story, Genesis chapter 1 rolling slightly into chapter two.  In verse 26 we hear “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV).  It is interesting that the writer didn’t provide any limitations, ie only White, or only Americans, or only Australians, or only those not disabled, or only those who are heterosexual.  God made mankind in his image, with all of its variations, colour, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation etc.

In today’s Psalm reading, we hear (Chapter 8 verses 4 and 5 – NRSV) “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.”  Again we are seeing the message that all are included in God’s plan, there are no exclusions.

The last of today’s readings I wish to reference, is the Great Commissioning from the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18b-20 NRSV) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Again, Jesus is not saying go and make disciples and baptize only the white American’s or Australians.  He is saying to go and make disciples of all nations, of all people, and from our reference in Genesis, all people are made in his father image.

And he is telling us to do everything that he commanded him to do, and what is the Great Commandment?  We find this earlier in Matthew (22:36-40 NRSV)  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

What is Jesus asking us to do, to love God, and to love one another.  There are no exceptions as to who to love.

So coming back to identity politics, this is a term which is used by the fundamentalist evangelical Christians, the religious right of politics and the political right wing , to try to demean and undermine people, particularly those who are different.  Their key crusade at the moment, is the LGBTIQ community.  These are the people that want “bathroom bills” to disadvantage transgender people, these are the people who do not want to allow marriage equality, or to roll it back, these are the people who want to allow people not to bake a cake for a same sex wedding reception, these are the people who want to stop anti-bullying programs for LGBTIQ kids in schools (who have a very high incidence of bulling – and LGBTIQ teen suicide rates are significant multiples of their peers), these are the people who want to create 21st century pharisaic laws for their own religious freedom at the expense of  the freedom of others.

So where would have Jesus been today in Sydney, I think he would have been at the anti-homophobic rally today, he would have been speaking against oppression, and speaking for inclusion.  I think he would have been happy to have been outside of St Andrew’s Cathedral speaking to those that the religious leaders of today are rejecting and oppressing for their own power and influence in the political sphere.

Jesus would recognise that the “politics of identity” is about oppression, and not about love, grace or inclusion, and in Pride month around the globe, Jesus would be standing with the LGBTIQ community, not those who want to use the identity politics as a tool of oppression.

A Current Parallel to Jesus Story of the Man Born Blind

Recently I attended a Christian conference in Pittsburgh USA, in January and it was freezing cold.  There were an amazing raft of keynote speakers and an amazing range and number of breakout electives/workshops.

I tended to follow a theme in my electives of storytelling.  This is not something I have looked at in the past, but I decided to look at it for a  project I may do one day (which gives me a lot of time!).

But it has also given me some insights into Biblical stories that I now read.

In the preparation for Easter, as we journey through lent, I have the opportunity to take an early morning service at my local church for a four week period.  For the first time I have tried to integrate a theme and at the same time follow the lectionary (Definitional link) .

Last week, week three of our journey, and the Bible reading was John 9:1-41, the story of the man born blind and Jesus’ healing.  (Link to the Bible Reading).

As I was working through this, it struck me that unfortunately this story is playing out in many churches around the world at this moment.

You see, Jesus left us with a very fundamental set of principles, Love God, and Love One Another.  In the second part, there is no *, where at the bottom of the page there are exclusions.

When Jesus saw the blind man (in our series so far Nicodemus a religious figure has sought out Jesus in the darkness of night, and the women at the well, met Jesus and had a conversation on equal grounds), it seems that Jesus sought him out.  In our Lenten readings we see three different interactions between Jesus, and in this case, Jesus is seeking out the person.

It appears that only the Disciples hear the conversation between Jesus and the man born blind, but their focus of discussion is on where is the sin, is it his own, but as he was born blind, or it is of his parents?

Jesus response was emphatic, neither this man nor his parents sinned …

The Disciples were stuck in the construct of the day, that disabilities or disadvantage were a response to sins.  We now have all the medical, scientific, psychological and sociological evidence of the causes of disabilities or disadvantage.  Accordingly, we have moved on from this concept of the relationship between a disability, disadvantage and sin.

So we are being asked to change our paradigms as new information becomes available to us?

The next characters in the story, with a relatively short mention, are his neighbours.  As the blind man was an outcast, and needed to beg to survive, he was probably pretty invisible to those in his neighbourhood, and when his sight was restored, they weren’t sure if it was actually the same man.

So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider if we are being blind to those that suffer disadvantage in our neighbourhood?

 The next characters in our story are the parent and the Pharisees and there is an interconnection here.

The Pharisees went immediately to sin, because Jesus had healed the man born blind on the Sabbath, so he could not be of God.  Theirs is a focus on a breach of the law, sin, and no connection with the man to celebrate that he now has sight.

The Pharisees ask of the parents, is he their son, was he born blind and how does he now have sight?  The Pharisees were so overbearing in their community, that the parents were frightened of them, that they might be thrown out of the Temple for declaring that Jesus healed their son, so all they can fearfully do is to acknowledge that he is their son, that he was born blind, but as their son is old enough, they tell the Pharisees to ask him how he was healed.

The Pharisees are determined to follow the law rather than any compassion, and when the formerly blind man states that Jesus healed him, he is excommunicated from the Temple.

So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider, should we throw someone out of our Christian Community because a person doesn’t fit our understanding of the rules?

The final act of this story, Jesus hears the man has been rejected from the Temple, he seeks him out yet again and brings him into his community.

So, it seems we are being asked to consider, are we willing to reach out and welcome in others who are outcast by other communities for being whole and for who they are?

So what is the modern day parallel I am seeing?

If we look at the LGBTIQ community around the world, there are many Christians who are caught up in an old paradigm, using phrases like “lifestyle choices”, or interpreting some limited passages as total justification for condemning LGBTIQ people as sinful and as outcasts.

I think this passage is asking those particular Christian communities to serious examine themselves.

Firstly, as with the first part of this John passage, the Disciples want to focus on the sin that caused the affliction.  Jesus would have none of that.  We now know that physical blindness is not caused by sin, we also know that LGBTIQ people are simply born the way they are, in the image of God.  There is the medical, scientific, psychological, and sociological evidence that there is nothing wrong with LGBTIQ people.

Secondly, there are many neighbours of LGBITQ people, who are like the neighbours of the man born blind, they choose to ignore their neighbours, their needs and assistance and support for justice.

Thirdly, there are many parents of LGBTIQ youth who feel they must ignore their children, or worse, put them in “reparative therapy” because the Christian Pharisees of the day make them so frightened to look after the best interest of their child (who is made in the image of God).

Fourthly, the Pharisees are focused on law and in their case law over love, law over healing, law over compassion, law over community, law over hope.  They send the man away from their community.  Today, we still see many Christian Churches who reject LGBTIQ people because they focus on what I believe I poor view of scripture and more focused on their interpretation of law over love, healing, compassion, community and hope, and in fact, their focus on law leads to destruction and often suicide.

Finally, we see Jesus coming to those that are rejected by the Pharisees and welcoming them in, and I think the parallel is clear that in today’s context Jesus is welcoming in the LGBTIQ into his community.

There might be some reading this and thinking, no, if there is a linkage to LGBTIQ people in this story, then it is about being healed from their LGBTIQ affliction.  The flaw in this positing is there is no affliction, but there is other healing required.  I think the healing in this passage is the healing for LGBTIQ people from the abuse they have suffered from society, Churches, other religious institutions, and governments.  Just as Jesus made the blind man whole by restoring his sight, I think Jesus is wanting to heal LGBTIQ people from the hurt, pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of others, and from their own hands as they struggle often with internal issues of acceptability from their rejection by so many.

What I am seeing particularly now in Australia and the USA (an in it in other countries), is a group of Christians that are more focused on excluding people because of their interpretation of sin (whilst ignoring a whole raft of other sins), whereas what we see in this story, is Jesus is focused on the exact opposite, making people whole (and stopping them from being rejected) and including them in his community.

Are you willing to accept Jesus’ challenge from this story?

Communion and Danish TV – include or exclude

Danish TV Station TV2 recently published a short film entitled “All That We Share”, on their YouTube channel where they state “We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?”

Every month, most churches around the world celebrate Communion, and this video made me think about communion.

Communion can be a little box that is part of our lives.  It can be a routine, in the latter part of the service on the first Sunday of the Month (my Church is rather radical, we hold it on the 2nd!).

Was Jesus giving us something routine, or giving us something transformational?

In our busy lives, getting to church can sometimes be an amazing feat, and there is something useful about routine, it is known, it is comforting, it is a known place, it can be a safe space, and sometimes the only safe space that on some occasions we see inside.

In the darkness’s of my life, that routine has been a saving grace.

But, very little about Jesus was routine, and I think with Communion we need to step outside of it being a routine event.

So what do I see as the connection between this Danish TV video and Communion.

I think the timing of this video in the context of the global political landscape is very interesting, with tension in Europe over refugees, with Brexit in the UK not about the economy but the ill-informed using Brexit as a referendum on people different to us and not the economy, with Australia pushing refugees trying to come to Australia out to foreign countries for processing to avoid its international obligation towards refuges, and President #45 of the USA trying to ban people from entering his country on religious grounds.

I think it is time for Christians to reflect on what communion may be about, what might be the radical thinking for Christians within the geopolitical landscape.

The video showed the modern clans of Denmark, which are not dissimilar to our own.  The poor, the workers, the rich, the business elite, those we fear based on our imagination of their image, those we don’t know and know nothing about.  Yet when questions were asked about life experiences, people came forward from pretty much all groups, except the single guy who responded to the question who was bi-sexual.  What the video demonstrated that there is more that connects us, than divides and disconnects us.

What was also most interesting, out of this group there was only one bi-sexual person, and yet he was applauded.  I would not expect that this group would have done that in the past, however, having realised their similarities, already being made aware of those that had been hurt by others, he was rewarded for his honesty and bravery, because people were getting the message that there is more in common with each other, and the differences don’t mean very much.  He was not a threat to them at all.

When it comes to communion, we are reminded of the Passover Meal, that Jesus spoke when he broke the break and shared it, and raise the cup and shared it asking those to take the meal to remember him.

This was a motley crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, possibly a nobleman and a treasurer.  Each was very different, and yet each called to walk with Jesus.

At this special occasion, and around it Jesus was aware that one would betray him, and another would lie about knowing him.  Yet Jesus included them all in this meal.

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22: 19(b)-20 NRSV

At the table Jesus included all he had with him in the meal knowing what was ahead and how those around him would respond.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1Cor 10:16-17 NRSV

In our communion setting, we do not hear Jesus or Paul saying, come and eat, except for the black, or except for the pregnant teenager, or except for the LGBTIQ person, or except for the disabled, or except for the refugee, or except for the poor, or except for the ……..

When you next have Communion in your church, my prayer for you is to think inside, Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves.  (“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him,  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) Matt 22:36-40 NRSV

So who are the people; in your heart, in your community, in your society, that you are excluding (silently or explicitly) from the Communion Table and from our communion with life?

Jesus is calling us to be people who are All That We Share.  If we are alert to those that we exclude, we may be more able to welcome those that we and our political leaders are encouraging us to exclude, which is the opposite of Jesus’ call to us, and take the first step to welcoming them in.

Will you be open to the transformational power of Jesus at your next communion to welcome rather than exclude?

It is time to rise up!

Welcome to my new blog.

As I indicated in the side bar – this may be regular, this may be very irregular – let’s journey together to see how we go.

There is a lot of upheaval in the world at the moment.

We have learnt about “Alternative Facts”.

Electors have looked at the candidates in the recent Presidential Elections, and I think a significant number of people thought, one of the candidates is saying some pretty mean and horrible things, but it is just to get elected. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is what he talked about, he is delivering.

President Trump decided to pretty much ignored the 75th remembrance of the Holocaust, and on the same day decided to ban travellers from certain countries to enter the USA for a period of time, and significantly reduce their refugee intake – and only after severe vetting (what ever that means).

Last week, many Christians around the world would have read and contemplated “The Beatitudes” – Matthew 5: 1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NRSV)

When I look at political leaders across the globe, including my own here in Australia, what am I seeing.

  • Governments that persist with “Trickle Down Economics”, which the vast majority of economist state doesn’t work. All it does it transfer more from the poor to the rich.
  • Governments that favour business over the individual, be it on property rights (corporate over the community), lack of compliance (how many companies in Australia over the last 12 months have been identified as systematically underpaying their workers?), profits over delivering to the individual (look at the banking sector in Australia that really has not had any penalty for the massive losses incurred to individuals from fraudulent practices of their wealth management arms, or say the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank where management overrule the medical staff on insurance claims). This are systematic examples of the failure of corporations to honour their side of the social licence provided to them to have the protection of a corporation rather than personal exposure.
  • Governments that seek to make people worse off based on false information and action (think CentreLink debt recovery program in Australia)
  • Governments and politicians that use fear of groups to support their political objectives – think refugees in Australia (offshore detention centres) and the US Executive Order on immigration and refugees that is based around countries, but is really an attack on a religion (remember that the conservative evangelical Christians at the same time will be arguing for their religious freedom rights!)
  • Governments and politicians that are using fear based on race, origin and sexual orientation to enhance their justification for active discrimination against certain groups.

Yet many within these governments around the world boldly state that they are driven by a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ and committed to following “Christian Principles”

However, what I see are government that:

  • are not willing to help the poor, in fact they seem intent on making the poor worse off
  • through their actions will see an increase in deaths and more people mourning (think refugees, think suicide of LGBTIQ people, think young black men killed)
  • through their actions that are trying to have a smaller number of richer people controlling the wealth of the world, leading to an increased poverty globally
  • through their power, oppress those who are willing to fight for righteousness
  • show no mercy, think of torture the President of the USA has approve, think of the refugees that Australia is putting in Manus Island and Nauru and our failure to provide appropriate medical care and refugee processing
  • think of the people that are complaining about the peaceful protests, and I expect as protest around the world increase, the powerful will use non peaceful means to try to discredit them
  • think of all the people being put in prison, when alternatives could be explored (some countries are closing down prisons, where as in Australia and the USA we are constantly building more)

We are entering a dangerous period of time.

People older than me have seen this before. Radical ideas based on fear, using scapegoats such as the Jews, Gypsies, Gays in the 1930’s – now being replaced by Muslims, Latinos/Blacks and Transgender people (but LGBTIQ more generally will be incorporated I expect).

Back then were politicians and world leaders who thought it best to appease, and to deal with quietly behind the scenes. They even held up a a piece of paper. But that didn’t stop the atrocities in the 1930.

Yet today, we have similar language, some speaking forcefully, but many others such as Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull trying to appease and work behind the scene. Yet unless there is a different response, history may well repeat itself, just on a grander scale.

There are those that are speaking up – such as 15 year old Royce Mann – in his poem he presented at the Ebenezer Church, ATL, GA, on Martin Luther Day, January 2017.

It is time to rise up, and reclaim Christ’s Gospel:

Jesus called us to love our neighbours as ourselves.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the false teachings by some preachers that align themselves and associated with riches, power and oppression of groups (the stand out amongst them is the LGBTIQ community) – the 21st century Pharisees. Jesus tore strips of the Pharisees and they played a big part of putting him on the Cross.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of political power to suppress and injure groups (be they minorities, other religions etc). Remember there were powerful political forces in Jesus time, and also some weak ones, who knew there was no case against Jesus, but he didn’t stand in the way.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against the abuse of marginalised people. The political and conservative evangelical right are gunning globally against LGBTIQ rights, with a particular focus on Transgender people in the USA and LGBTIQ people in Australia by trying to stop marriage equality. Many governments are withdrawing funding from the poor and disabled who are need of health care, education, housing etc. Jesus stood with the poor, the sick, the disabled, the outcasts, the Samaritans.

It is time for us as Christians to rise up and stand against discrimination, based on race, sex, sexual orientation, colour of your skin, ethnicity, religion. These forms of discrimination are tools of those in power to stay in power based on creating fear and anxiety. Jesus called us to love one another as we love ourselves.

At this time of the liturgical year – I am fascinated by the Bible readings we are provided with, which are a complete contrast to how the “Christian” leaders around the world are leading.

It is time for Christians to rise up.