Monday, March 31, 2008

Theology: a poem


No, the serpent did not
Seduce Eve to the apple.
All that’s simply
Corruption of the facts.

Adam ate the apple.
Eve ate Adam.
The serpent ate Eve.
This is the dark intestine.

The serpent, meanwhile,
Sleeps his meal off in Paradise –
Smiling to hear
God’s querulous calling.

- Ted Hughes, 1967

Five points for each link to other pictures of Jenolan caves on this blog. No more than one link per person.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

SMH and the problem of evil

(This will not be a discussion of the vexing question "how can a good editor allow bad letters to be published?")In response to the exchange of letters to the editor mentioned previously, Victor submitted this one:

"David Harris (Letters, March 27) asks for my thoughts on God and the 2004 tsunami. I don't think there is an answer that could wipe away the tears of pain and grief of those left. To explain it away would make a mockery of such awful suffering and would imply that this tragedy was somehow useful, even good. Does a child who crashes her bike question the goodness, let alone the existence, of her father? No, she wants comfort now and the promise that all will be well. In the death of Jesus, God enters into the pain and brokenness of our world. God himself has suffered with us. In Jesus' bodily resurrection God offers hope that one day He will renew and heal a suffering world. Does the tsunami raise lots of questions about God? Yes, of course. But it makes me long even more for the day when God will wipe away every tear. That promise gives me and the church the strength to do all we can to stand in love and service with this hurting world."
Unfortunately, he didn't get this one published (too long? too much theology?). However, having posted on this topic a number of times, I thought his reply expressed two important thoughts coherently and briefly: (a) God is not distant or uncaring in the face of our pain; and (b) there is more to come. Both points arise from reflecting upon the good news about Jesus, rather than any abstract philosophical notions of God's "control". Yet perhaps even more importantly, Vic's letter doesn't assume that it is possible to give an answer now that will satisfy. The faithful response in the face of evil is not to seek to explain it (away), but to grieve with those who grieve.
Eight points for the first to link to the original picture on which I offered points and started this whole game.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Seasoned with salt: grace-filled conversations III

I introduced this series back here.

This situation is a different kind of "conversation": letters to the editor. I know that many Sydney Christians are faithful writers and some even occasionally get one published. This week, the SMH has had a few short letters on the problem of evil. The first was on Tuesday:

"Wouldn't it have been easier for God - not to mention cheaper for the health system - to have prevented Jose Ramos-Horta being shot, rather than having to save his life afterwards ("Ramos-Horta leaves hospital bed for service", March 24)? The fatuous nonsense people believe and the uncritical way newspapers report it never cease to astonish." - Richard Cobden Woolloomooloo
The next day my friend Victor Shaw had this reply published:
"Richard Cobden (Letters, March 25) questions the existence of God on the basis that He did not prevent Jose Ramos-Horta being shot. This is an example of the larger question: how can a good God allow suffering? Perhaps I can begin to answer both: God didn't shoot Ramos-Horta, a human being did." - Victor Shaw Epping
Thursday saw this response:
"I'm sure we're all grateful that Victor Shaw can so confidently clear God on the matter of the Ramos-Horta shooting (Letters, March 26). Any thoughts on the 2004 tsunami, Victor?" - David Harris Manly
How would you reply? Remember, letters to the editor have to be less than 200 words, may be edited to be even shorter, are not likely to be published unless you are very good, very lucky or very representative of many other letters (and best if you can manage all three).

I'll post Victor's (alas, unsuccessful) reply soon.


A crazy suggestion. Stuff like this keeps US politics interesting.

However, I've heard on the grapevine (given that I have sources close to him), that Gore didn't run because he wanted to change the wind.

iMonk on blogging

An old post I've only come across recently: Ten Reasons I Don't Read Your Blog. Some good advice here.

Smith on global scarcity

A (poorly edited) extract from my article on global scarcity in the latest edition of CASE magazine has been published at Sydney Anglicans.

You'll need to subscribe to CASE to get the full article, or you can find many of the ideas back in this series.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

As it is in heaven

Having recently seen Så som i himmelen (As it is in heaven), I've had two thoughts:

• Swedish sounds easier to learn than I expected; there were many links to both German and Old English (not that I can speak either of those, but even the smattering of each was enough to pick up a few lines in the film).

• More importantly, the enduring popularity of the film* demonstrates our society's deep yearning for genuine community.
The story explores the development of a small Swedish village church choir under the guidance of a brilliant international conductor who unexpectedly retires in order to return to his roots. The choir are drawn together by a shared object of desire into a community that is creative, healing, honest, non-judgemental, transformative, sexuality-celebrating, fear-overcoming, a refuge and has space for difference and imperfection - in fact, all the things church is meant to be. No wonder the village pastor is driven into obsolescence.

This is a film that draws deeply upon Christian language and symbolism, not least in having a Christ-figure around whom the community formed, whose ‘crucifixion’ (first through being rejection, then symbolically in his own death) reconciled and established the community. Moreover, in this community angels can be glimpsed and life starts happening on earth as it is in heaven. In contrast, the village church, particularly through the figure of the repressed and repressive priest, is revealed as a sham community of control, conformity, fear, gossip and envy. The community claiming to be Christian is thus critiqued using many of its own standards.

Its alternative was a "church" with no prayer, no sin, no sacrament, no word. Just music. Although the slow growth into honesty amongst the choir led to many dramatic acknowledgements of long-buried tensions, and in (almost) every case this lead to new levels of love and acceptance and unity, the film would portray the dramatic outburst of hidden emotions, but not the long and sometimes slow process of working it through to reconciliation. Perhaps we have to assume this occurred off-camera, but it is of such stuff that real community is made.

Unfortunately, the film was more interesting theologically and musically than dramatically: wounded genius retires early and returns to his home village where he has to confront his past yet finds acceptance and love through learning to offer them to others.

Four out of five stars.
*I think it is still showing at the Orpheum in Cremorne, more than a year after it opened, making it the longest-running film in Australia. It's been showing continuously for the last two and a half years in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Images from here, which also suggested that the film is "a classic Western. Mysterious stranger rides into town, arousing the womenfolk and upsetting the menfolk. Although a man of peace, his presence excites violence. In the end, he must die for his beliefs, releasing the town from its troubles (it's kinda difficult to ride off into the sunset when the next one might not come for another 9 months)."

Emerson on the end

"The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)

I don't believe this, though the converse might be true.

"Only the body saves the soul"

"Only the body saves the soul. It sounds rather shocking put like that, but the point is that the soul left to itself, the inner life or whatever you want to call it, is not capable of transforming itself. It needs the gifts that only the external life can deliver: the actual events of God’s action in history, heard by physical ears; the actual material fact of the meeting of believers where bread and wine are shared; the actual wonderful, disagreeable, impossible, unpredictable human beings we encounter daily, in and out of the church. Only in this setting do we become holy, and holy in a way unique to each one of us."

- Rowan Williams, Where God Happens, 115-16.

Christian faith is not abstract; it is not simply about ideas or a worldview. It is not about having the right attitude to life, even if that attitude is faith, hope and love. It is a way of living opened for us by the act of God in Jesus. Any form of faith that is purely inner, private, non-bodily or apolitical has missed one of the key themes of the whole Christian story.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stuff other people are saying

Jim West on the psychoses of boring bloggers.

Ben's excited about a conference and Jason about Barth's Dogmatics finally making into the real virtual world. All I can do is drool and save my pennies (especially since they're not legal tender here anyway).

Ben and Jason both also post some classic Easter poetry.

Holy Week sermons from Kim, Tom, Rowan and Justin. I'm thinking about posting my own (on John 21), but maybe I'll just put some bits of it up.

Invisible Cities

This little book by Italo Calvino was easily my favourite novel of 2007. Consisting of a series of conversations between Italian explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324/5) and Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan (1215-1294), the majority of the book focuses on Polo's brief (one to three page) descriptions of 55 cities allegedly found in the Khan's empire. Hilarious, tragic, insightful, surreal and philosophical, each city is really a thought experiment, a prose poem about our relationship to memory, desire, death, dreams, signs, fate and the spaces we inhabit. Here is one example. I might post some more in time. As you'll notice, the cities are not limited to the 13th century, nor even to the realms of possibility, though some come too close to reality to be entirely comfortable.

Cities & Memory • 5
In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old post cards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory. If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits: admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared with the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old cards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one’s eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what is has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.

Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves. At times even the names of the inhabitants remain the same, and their voices’ accent, and also the features of the faces; but the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why do you seek the living among the virtual?

He is not here.
He has risen, just as he said!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dickson on the historical Jesus

There is much misinformation about Jesus spread by Dawkins, Hitchens and Onfray - as well as by many Christian apologists. Therefore, it's good to be very clear on what is clear and basically undisputed. Dr John Dickson does just that in his SMH article on the historicity of Jesus. Here's a taste:

Outside this triangle of sceptics, accommodators and apologists there is another group of men and women who number in the thousands, whose works fill the academic libraries and journals of the world and yet whose views are rarely considered in popular discussion of this topic. I am talking about professional biblical historians: not professors of theology in religious institutions but university historians specialising in the language, literature and culture of the biblical period. Be they Christian, Jewish or agnostic, such scholars shun both overreaching scepticism and theological dogma. [...] For while mainstream scholars disagree on many things about the life of Jesus, there is a very strong consensus that the basic narrative of the Gospels is historically sound. [...] That Jesus lived cannot be disputed. [...] But what of the Easter events? There is a broad consensus here, too. Few biblical historians accept all of the details of the Gospel accounts - to the chagrin of some Christians - but most, whether Jewish, Christian or agnostic, agree that these writings have preserved a reliable core of information about the tumultuous final days of Jesus' life: he created a public disturbance in the Jerusalem temple shortly before his arrest; he shared a final (Passover) meal with his disciples; he was arrested by the priestly elite and handed over to the Romans; he was crucified for treason under the mocking charge "king of the Jews". These are the accepted facts of the Easter narrative. Christian apologists may often exaggerate them but the new atheists simply ignore them.
If you want to know what he thinks of the resurrection, you'll need to read the article.

God is dead

The madman.-- Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" --As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? --Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us--for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars--and yet they have done it themselves."

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"

- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science:
with a prelude in rhymes and an appendix of songs
, §125.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Tonight we had our Tenebrae (shadows) service for Maundy Thursday. The service is a quiet reflective time and is composed of an opening reading of John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples' feet and the new commandment to love), confession, communion, the greeting of peace, a few hymns and then a series of seven readings that move through the descending 'shadows' into which Jesus walked following his last supper: the shadow of betrayal (Matthew 26.20-25), the shadow of inner agony (Luke 22.39-44), the shadow of loneliness (Matthew 26.40-45), the shadow of desertion (Matthew 26.47-50, 55-56), the shadow of accusation (Matthew 26.59-67), the shadow of mockery (Mark 15. 12-20), the shadow of death (Luke 23.33-46). The space is lit by eight candles, and at the end of each of the readings, one is extinguished. With one candle remaining, a solo reflection is sung ("Come see the beauty of the Lord"). The service ends with a final reading of John 1.1-4:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.
The final candle is then extinguished and we end in silence and darkness, waiting and walking out alone: the light of the world slain.This afternoon, I also met with an Orthodox friend with whom I read the scriptures. I gave him a Bible for Easter (since he only had a New Testament, in an old translation; his English is good but not excellent). Unexpectedly, he also gave me a present: Services of Holy Week by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand. This 415-page tome contains the liturgy and readings simply for one week's worth of services (admittedly, not just any week!) and is a rich source of theological reflections and expressions of faith and hope. Jessica and I read through the service for the evening of Holy Thursday (much longer than our Tenebrae service!), and here are a few of the many highlights:
Today* he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree. The king of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He, who wrapped the heavens in clouds, is wrapped with the purple of mockey.
Because of a tree, Adam was estranged from Paradise. Because of the wood of the cross, the thief abode in Paradise. For the former, in tasting, disobeyed the commandment of the Creator; but the latter, who was crucified with You, confessed, admitting to You, the concealed God. O Saviour; remember also us, in your kingdom.
Your life-bearing side, O Christ, overflows like a spring from Eden, watering your Church and making it a living Paradise; then dividing the glad tidings into four Gospels, as headwaters, it irrigates the world, gladdening creation, and teaching the Gentiles to adore your kingdom in faith.
All creation, O Christ, beholding your crucifixion, trembled. The foundations of the earth were shaken for dread of your might; the lights of the firmament went into hiding; the veil of the temple was rent; the mountains quaked; and the rocks burst asunder, as the believing thief cries out with us to You: "O Saviour, remember us!"
Every member of your holy body endured dishonour for us. Your head, the thorns; your face, the spittings; your cheeks, the smitings; your mouth, the taste of vinegar mixed with gall; your ears, the impious blasphemies; your back, the lash; your hand, the reed; your whole body, stretched out on the cross; your joints, the nails; and your side, the spear. O Almighty Saviour, who in your mercy condescended to suffer for us, and set us free from suffering, having raised us up, have mercy on us.
*Unlike how most westerners mark time, this liturgy assumes that a day ends (and so begins) at sunset, so this service is actually the start of Holy (or Good) Friday.
Twelve points for guessing why this picture is inappropriate for a post on a Tenebrae service.

"Happy Easter"?

Most pagans – God bless them – don't quite know what to do with Easter.

It's funny; they ought to, since it was originally a pagan festival that the church baptised. Nothing wrong with that, of course, since if pagans themselves can become baptised as believers, then so can their festivals, provided we remember that baptism involves death prior to new life. Which brings us back to Easter. Every year I receive many wishes of "happy Easter" during Holy Week and it has increasingly struck me as odd. Worse is when Christians can also think of nothing better to say. How do you reply?

Here are some of my attempts, depending on the context (how well I know them, how much longer the conversation might conceivably continue, etc.):

• "Yes indeed, because Christ is risen!"
I tried this one on a teenage shop employee for whom wishing me "happy Easter" was obviously part of his training. He looked at me as if to say "What's Christ got to do with it?"

• "Not yet, we're still in Lent."
Amazing how many Christians don't even know what Lent is about (or try here for more links if you're not into those suggestions).

• "Don't jump the gun, he's got to die first." Or perhaps, "we've got to die first".
Try that one on your co-workers or the postman.
The casual celebration of Easter with chocolate and relaxed BBQs (or through earning a mint while working at double-time-and-a-half, as I overheard one Easter enthusiast on the bus this afternoon) wants the benefits of new life without the way of the cross. This makes for a shallow spirituality that avoids giving offense because it refuses to take offense at the cross, or simply refuses to look at the dying places of the world. The only path to life is through the valley of the shadow of death. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed (John 12.24). Or, as the St Andrews Cathedral School motto puts it, Via crucis, via lucis.

A little too clever?

I am all for the occasional enigmatic church sign to get people thinking, but sometimes I wonder whether they can be a little too clever.

Seen recently around the traps:
"Why on earth is it called Good Friday? Why in hell is it called Bad Friday?"

Our own sign has been fairly straightforward this week: "Easter - a fresh start to life" (other ideas included "Easter: another world is possible", "Easter: God has heard your cries", "Easter: your new life starts this weekend"). Tomorrow, we'll switch to "God is dead" and on Sunday, "He is risen".

Up to twenty points for good new sign ideas.

Observation test: are you paying attention?

OK, one final video.

Comments may contain spoilers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to win every argument...

... and lose your soul. H/T MPJ.

Seasoned with salt: grace-filled conversations II

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.     - Colossians 4.6.
Last month I started a new series to explore how to participate in genuine conversations. My last question generated many thoughtful responses.

Situation: Here's an old chestnut - in an email exchange with a believing friend you've known for some time, she admits to doubts. "I struggle to believe that God would send many (most?) people to Hell for not believing in him. After all, apart from personal epiphanies, he chooses only to reveal himself in the form of a book which was written, collated and interpreted by fallible humans."

How might you respond with grace, seasoned with salt?

Remember, since these posts are based on actual situations (sometimes with some key details changed), it's possible that the interlocutor might be a reader of this blog and follow the discussion. If not, others in a similar position might be reading.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More links

Jason reflects on the cross and atonement: on penal substitution.

Michael questions the value of future pastors and teachers learning Hebrew and Greek.

Have you ever done this?

Originally posted here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St Patrick

Green before it was trendy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Food fight

I hate it when blogs become a list of links to favourite videos, but I'm going to indulge myself one more time. Watch this. Stay with it until it starts to make sense, then watch it all again and enjoy the "aha!" moments.

Or if you're still really confused, try the character cheat sheet, or the scene breakdown.
WARNING: Comments contain spoilers.

What's going on: link love

Psychodougie posts a great song and reflects on unity and diversity.

Kyle talks about choosing the right church to suit your needs.

The free money continues over at One Dollar Jackpot. Recent competitions to win a dollar have included twenty-fives words or less on "What would you change about yourself?", "Who is your hero?" or "What is going to happen next?" Today's competition involves using three unusual words in a sentence.
Yes, I am giving this site another plug because I just won yesterday's competition and am feeling happy about it. I am still waiting for my dollar from Doug and Kyle...

Dan reflects on getting the timing right, or "how can we tell whether it's too late to try fixing something?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Life explained (with diagrams)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many is a Venn diagram worth?
This is really worth watching. Really.

There's a whole lot more in a similar vein over at Indexed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Hillary is called Hillary and Obama is called Obama

It's (mildly) interesting that the two main candidates for Democratic nomination are most commonly referred to in different ways. One by her first name, the other by his surname. When we started to consider reasons, the first is easy - "Clinton" is already taken. Just like we need to talk about "Dubya" because "Bush" often means his father, so "Hillary" needs to be distinguished from her husband. As an added bonus (or drawback), this serves to highlight her gender every time her name is mentioned (if it needed any more prominence).

But I'd wondered why it is much rarer to hear of "Barack". I think I've worked it out.

"In my Father's house": some reflections on John 14

...We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

- Nicene Creed

A while ago, I posted a series on why I think that the Christian hope has very little to do with going to heaven when you die. During that series I argued that resurrection on a renewed earth is a more scriptural understanding than an individual post-mortem departure to another place, despite what many of our hymns say. I also looked at various passages often (mis)used to prop up such a platonic view, showing how each either directly teaches or can naturally be understood to be affirming a resurrection hope: Philippians 3.20-21 ("our citizenship is in heaven"); 1 Peter 2.11 (being aliens and strangers); 1 Peter 1.3-5 (a heavenly hope); Matthew (the kingdom of heaven); 2 Peter 3 (a new heavens and new earth).

However, there was one commonly cited passage I didn't address:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.                      - John 14.1-4
A heaven-as-destination-of-Christian-hope reading of this passage is probably so familiar that I barely need to sketch it out. Jesus is about to go back to being with his Father in heaven ("my Father's house"), where he is preparing rooms for the disciples (taking almost two millennia and counting to do so) such that one day when he comes back, he will take all believers to be with him. And the way into this heavenly mansion is Jesus himself ("I am the way, the truth and the life", two verses later). Notice, however, that even if this reading correctly identifies "my Father's house" with heaven, this is still not "heaven when you die" - it is heaven at Jesus' return.

N. T. Wright, vocal critic of "heaven when you die" eschatology (and owner of numerous large birds), has suggested a reading of this passage in The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) that tried to emphasize the rooms (or "dwelling-places") were an image of a "temporary resting-place, a way-station where a traveller would be refreshed during a journey" (p. 446). He pointed out that "my Father's house" is a common way of referring to the Temple (John 2.16-17; cf. Luke 2.49; Matthew 21.13; Mark 2.26). Putting this together with some parallels in Jewish apocalyptic writing that speak of "the chambers where the souls are kept against the day of eventual resurrection", he concludes:
"The 'dwelling-places' of this passage are thus best understood as safe places where those who have died may lodge and rest, like pilgrims in the Temple, not so much in the course of an onward pilgrimage within the life of a disembodied 'heaven', but while awaiting the resurrection which is still to come." (p. 446)
Thus, for Wright this passage becomes a reassurance about the intermediate state. God is able to accommodate all those awaiting resurrection. He will not turn any away; those who have died in Christ are not lost.

In his very brief treatment of the same passage in John for Everyone (2004), he seems to have changed his mind. Rather than being about an intermediate state, he now thinks Jesus is referring to our ultimate hope, not going to heaven, but the renewal of all creation to become the dwelling place of God. After again making the point about "my Father's house" as the Temple, he goes on to explain:
"The point about the Temple, within the life of the people of Israel, was that it was the place where heaven and earth met. Now Jesus hints at a new city, a new world, a new 'house'. Heaven and earth will meet again when God renews the whole world. At that time there will be room for everyone." (p. 58)
So where does God dwell? Where is his "house"? Although the idea of God dwelling in heaven is a common scriptural image, I think Wright is correct to point to John 2.16-17 as an important earlier reference to God's house. However, even the equation of God's house with the Temple in Jerusalem is problematised in that very passage, which declares that Jesus, in speaking of the Temple, was speaking of his own body (2.19-21). The temple, or house, of God is an image of God's dwelling place. In one sense, God dwells in heaven. In another sense, he dwells in Christ. In a third sense, he will dwell in the new heavens and earth. And yet in John 14 there is a fourth location, a fourth sense of God's dwelling place:
Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

- John 14.23

More to come on this...
Twenty points for correctly naming the building. Ten for the city. Five for the country. No more than one set of points per person.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Did you know? Wright trivia

Some things I bet you didn't know about Tom Wright.
H/T Psychodougie (originally from here).

Friday, March 07, 2008

Save the planet

I have a few (slightly more serious) posts planned on this very phrase for some stage when I am not so busy, but for now I hope you enjoy this interview. H/T Rev Sam.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Williams on our delusions of control and finality

"Human beings are perennially vulnerable to the temptation of arrogating divinity to themselves. It is a temptation manifest in the refusal to accept finitude, creatureliness and dependence – what Ernest Becker has called the 'causa sui project', the delusion that the world is my world, a world controllable by my will and judgement. But it is no less manifest in what we call the apocalyptic delusion, the belief that we can stop, reverse or cancel history, that we can assume the 'divine' prerogative of acting with decisive finality in the affairs of the world, that we can 'make an end'. Because our human history is marked by an ultimate severing of relations in death, and because death is something we can inflict (though not resist), it is not surprising that we nurture this delusion. It can be a source of relief: by the murder of another, by the obliteration of a race, by the consignment of someone to the isolation of prison or hospital, by the suffocation of my own memory, I can be free ('A little water clears us of this deed'). Or it can be a source of horror and despair: death ends all hope of reconciliation, it fixes in an everlasting rictus the hopeless grimace of failure in a relationship. We may stand appalled at our destructiveness, believing that we have indeed destroyed, annihilated, our possibilities.

"The resurrection as symbol declares precisely our incapacity for apocalyptic destruction – and equally declares that the 'divine prerogative' of destruction is in any case a fantasy. God’s act is faithful to his character as creator, and he will destroy no part of this world: his apocalyptic act is one of restoration, the opening of the book which contains all history."

- Rowan Williams, Easter: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, 17.

Williams makes at least two important points here. First, our desire to "wrap things up", achieving neatness and cohesion, can be a symptom of a refusal to be a creature, a misdirected protest against our own finitude. Not only is this futile, it is destructive. The attempt to achieve a 'final solution' to problems ought to make us shudder. Our projects remain provisional and ambiguous; they are open to correction, misunderstanding, clarification, reinterpretation, confusion and opposition. The attempt to leave an indelible and irrefutable stamp upon history is an inhumane megalomania - a warning against all utopian dreams.

Second, this desire for finality is often expressed in fantasies of destruction, obliteration, erasure. But God doesn't work like this. He is the creator of new things through the resurrection and transformation of the old. The "end of the world" of which Jesus' resurrection is a sneak preview is not really an end, but a new beginning in which all things are made fresh.
Both these points are in a similar vein to these two quotes from Moltmann.

A riddle

What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nativities: a poem


Godlings are born racily.

They are excavated
Into life by the strong licks
Of the world-cow, suckled
By goats, mares, wolves

Blossom of oak, blossom of broom,
Blossom of meadowsweet
Go to their making.

They erupt through the paternal
Skull fully armed, hatch from an egg,
Or appear, foam-born,
In Cyprus, in a shell,
Wearing a great deal of hair
And nothing else.

This one arrived
At the time of the early lambs
By means of the usual channels.

- U. A. Fanthorpe, 1987

Ten points to the first to provide a link to the post on this blog containing the full image of which this is a detail.

March points table

February's points table was dominated by Anthony, who gains ten bonus points. Five to Matt Lemieux (a.k.a Matt) in a distant second place and three to Moffitt the Prophet for coming in third. Although Anthony has a formidable lead, there are currently around 715 points still on offer.

March points table

219: Moffitt the Prophet
45: Anthony
20: Peter J
17: H. Goldsmith
10: Joshua, Mandy
8: Psychodougie
UPDATE: Only seven eleven days into March and already Moffitt has equalled surpassed more than doubled Anthony's record for most points scored in a single month (=79, set back in December 2007). How high can he go?
The record for most points awarded overall in a single month is still comfortably held by July 2007: 321 points split between 19 competitors.
UPDATE: March 2008 just managed to surpass July 2007: 329 points split between 7 people.
Eight points for correctly identifying the building.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Calvin on loving the unlovely

"We are not to look to what men in themselves deserve, but to attend to the image of God, which exists in all, and to which we owe all honour and love. […] Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. […] Say he is contemptible and worthless, but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he had deigned to give the beauty of his image. […] Say that he is unworthy of your least exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, is worthy of yourself and all your exertions. But if he not only merits no good, but has provoked you by injury and mischief, still this is no good reason why you should not embrace him in love, and visit him with offices of love. […] We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them."

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion III.vii.6.

This is a very interesting point Calvin makes: that the basis for loving my neighbour is not lost through my neighbour's unworthiness, or even active hostility towards me. I am to see in my neighbour the gift of God - that God has seen fit to make even my broken and destructive neighbour a means by which others might see something of the divine life.

Of course, none of this makes sense until we learn to see Christ as God's image, into whose likeness we are drawn by the Spirit. The ever-open possibility that my neighbour might conform more closely to Christ's grace and truth keeps open the door to treating her graciously and truthfully. None are beyond the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ. All are vulnerable to grace. I love, then, in order that my neighbour might become more fully herself by becoming more like Christ.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Individualism and Christianity

"When they [pagan philosophers] wish to say that the wise man’s life is a social one, we agree, and we say it much more clearly than they do."

- Augustine, City of God 19.5.

A Christianity that simply mirrors the individualist assumptions of contemporary western culture - my salvation, my faith, my "values" - poses little threat to the powers that be.* The idols of self, family, security, success and money can all be comfortably worshipped alongside (or as) Christ. Membership in a Christian community is seen as an optional extra, a useful tool for my spiritual growth, a place to express my spirituality, a shop at which I "purchase" those items of tradition that suit my taste and opt out of those that are too difficult, or which I don't understand. Once I am made too uncomfortable, I move on to find a more suitable mix at another church down the road (or just at home). Beliefs are transformed into values, and what is important is that they are mine, not whether they are true. My own experience is sacrosanct and perfectly transparent to my understanding (or so fascinatingly opaque as to justify endless introspection). I find myself without reference to others (if this doesn't sound like a recipe for being lost, I don't know what does) and only then need to interact with those with whom I choose. I live on a gated island of my own making, to which others visit only with permission.

Does any of this sound familiar?
*See this post by Dan for further analysis of the alliance between individualism and the dehumanizing powers at work in modern society. He argues that individualism is not directly a worshipping of the self, but a hidden worship of other gods.