Friday, October 31, 2008

YOU: An Introduction

The inestimable Michael Jensen, a.k.a. the blogging parson, has just had his first book published. I mentioned that he was working on it back here and here. It's called YOU: An introduction and can be ordered here (or here if you are in the US) for the bargain price of AUS$16.95. You can even download the cover, contents, introduction and first chapter here.

The book was originally posted (in small sections) on a blog (now closed, I guess the publishers want people to buy the book!), and the comments made on the posts (and Michael's replies) have been included in the book, sometimes taking the discussion in unexpected directions. Since I made one or two of the comments, if you buy it, you are also getting my first published book (well, I can pretend)!

Oh, you want to know what it's about? Details, details. Besides, I would have thought the title sufficient. If not, here is the blurb from the publisher's website:

Who are You really? What are You supposed to be like? What—or whose—purpose do You serve? It's never been more complicated—or more confusing—to be a human, and it's never been harder to answer the question of who You are. But in You: An introduction, Michael Jensen sets about doing just that. In his exploration of some of the different facets of the human condition (You are alive; You are free; You are a child), we soon discover that the question of who we are is essentially bound up with the question of who Jesus is ...
Great to read and even better to give away!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The ecological credit crunch

We are living beyond our means, running up a debt of up to US$4,500,000,000,000 every year. The parallels between the credit crisis and the ecological crises are not accidental. Both are symptoms of the myth of infinite growth.

The differences, however, are crucial. The financial crisis is primarily (as far as I understand it) a crisis of trust: financial institutions who are no longer sure from whom it is safe to borrow. The responses by governments have been to act as a kind of credit backstop, stopping (or slowing) the corrosive effects of cycles of mistrust.

The ecological crises are a crisis of life: of too many human lives living lifestyles that undermine the stability of all living things. This helps give some idea why governments have not responded with a similar urgency and zeal as they have done in relation to the credit crisis. Not because the problem is smaller or less pressing, but because it is far larger and more difficult. How do millions and millions of people radically change their assumptions and consumptions?
H/T Box the Jack. Make sure you also read this post on his blog boxologies: GDP is a speedometer, the question is "where are we headed?".
Photo by ALS.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two attitudes towards extinction

You may know that biodiversity loss, while difficult to measure, is thought by a significant majority of biologists to be occurring at an alarming rate, possibly somewhere between 100 and 1000 times the "background" rate of extinction (taking a very long term view of such things). The causes are many, but almost exclusively anthropogenic (i.e. we're to blame): habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change. You may also have heard even more startling predictions such as this century being witness to the extinction of between a quarter and a half of all currently living species (how such estimates are calculated).

With this in mind, compare and contrast these two quotes:

"But biodiversity losses of small inedible species often provoke the response, "Who cares? Do you really care less for humans than for some lousy useless little fish or weed, like the snail darter or Furbish lousewort?" This response misses the point that the entire natural world is made up of wild species providing us for free with services that can be very expensive, and in many cases impossible, for us to supply ourselves. Elimination of lots of lousy little species regularly causes big harmful consequences for humans, just as does randomly knocking out many of the lousy little rivets holding together an airplane."

- Jared Diamond, Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, 488-89.

"The sadness which overcomes us when we hear about the extinction of hundreds of kinds of butterflies on a faraway continent has nothing to do with a loss of something useful. It doesn't even have anything to do with a reduction of aesthetic pleasure, since, more than likely, we would never have had a chance to see this type of butterfly. Nevertheless, we are poorer through its disappearance, since our own being is fulfilled in reference to every reality which we ourselves are not. Delectatio in felicitate alterius [delight in the happiness of others] - this formula of Leibniz overcomes the opposition between anthropocentrism and love of nature "for its own sake". To love something for its own sake is the specific form of human realisation.

- Robert Spaemann, Happiness and Benevolence, 118.

How do they each make you feel? Which strikes closer to home for you? Why?

In both cases, the author makes use of a narrative of loss, but where Diamond fears for our survival, Spaemann speaks of us losing part of our identity. Spaemann is convinced that survival (whether individual, societal or as a species) is not a particularly important goal. For him, there are more important things; I might save my life and yet lose my self.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hauerwas on suffering

"To ask why we suffer makes the questioner appear either terribly foolish or extremely arrogant. It seems foolish to ask, since in fact we do suffer and no sufficient reason can be given to explain that fact. Indeed, if it were explained, suffering would be denied some of its power. The question seems arrogant because it seeks to put us in the position of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only God knows the answer to such questions."

- Stanley Hauerwas, "Should Suffering Be Eliminated?" in The Hauerwas Reader, 565.

Hauerwas goes on to say that it is also a question that can't be avoided and ought to be asked. Yet it seems to me that some accounts of providence may illegitimately remove the sting of this question by attempting to give just such an answer. When a sufferer asks the "why" question and our answer seeks a response along the lines of "Oh, I see now why this and all suffering is justified and necessary", then we have removed all room for the strong scriptural theme (and healthy, indeed necessary, human practice) of lament. If we become so content with the present that we are not groaning for a healed world, then perhaps we have silenced the Spirit who groans with us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Manent on the common good

"The common good is not a good that can be isolated from the different goods and elements that constitute the city. Nor is it a sort of common denominator, unlike the good of self-preservation which for the modern philosophers will be the foundation of human rights. It is both the supreme good and the good which binds the different goods together that can have no direct rapport without which the other goods could not coexist, that is, could not be present at all in the human world."

- Pierre Manent, The City of Man
(trans. Marc A. LePain; Princeton University Press, 1998 [1994]), 168.

Suspicion about the existence of a common good leads to the dissolution of politics into the cynical negotiations of self-interested individuals out to maximise their personal freedom. This is still a conception of the common good, albeit a very minimalist one, in which the only good thing we can share is to not disturb one another. Such a reduction in vision may be the result of previous scars, of well-intentioned policies that caused more damage than harm. But to give up at this point and retreat into self-protection is a failure of collective imagination. That it was "not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2.18) speaks not only the possibility of marriage, but also of society. Sharing goods is possible, even if it takes some creative compromises that enable us to each have a smaller share of a greater sum of goods.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A glitch in the matrix

Blogger doesn't seem to be letting me post comments on my own blog at the moment. Anyone else having this trouble? I will take silence as a "yes".

UPDATE: Fixed (thanks to those who wrote to me).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some crises are more equal than others

Food for thought from The Australia Institute:

Have you ever wondered why, more than 15 years after the world’s leaders gathered in Rio and agreed to tackle climate change urgently, there always seems to be some other ‘crisis’ that is more pressing?

In recent weeks, we have watched the spectacle of the US Congress drafting a $700 billion bail-out package in a matter of days. When the bill was defeated in its original form it spread consternation from Wall Street to the Australian Parliament. Didn’t the Congress understand this was a crisis? Didn’t they understand this was a time for action rather than perfection?

The most interesting thing about the worldwide approach to bailing out the financial system is how pragmatic policy-makers have been. No one, from the US Treasury Secretary to Kevin Rudd, will put their hand on their heart and say they understand the full nature and extent of the problem.

Nor will they look the voters in the eye and declare that, after spending trillions of dollars to bail out banks, they are certain that the problem will be solved. On the contrary—when it comes to the world of finance, we all have to accept just how complex the systems are. We can’t really expect certainty, and we can’t really guarantee success. Rather, we all just have to comfort ourselves with the thought that it would be irresponsible to sit back and do nothing. It is, it seems, self-evident that we shou ld at least try.

But not, apparently, when it comes to climate change. Even though most of our bankers can’t explain the risks associated with the derivatives they have purchased over the years, our climate scientists are expected to be able to predict the weather to a high degree of accuracy in 70 years’ time.

Even though economists can’t predict the rate of GDP growth, inflation or the exchange rate next month, those determined to do nothing about climate change demand certainty about what the price of emissions permits will be in 20 years’ time.

The current financial crisis was unforseen by the major governments of the world. The cost of the bailouts combined with the flow-on economic effects are likely to dwarf the estimated costs of tackling climate change, yet there is little talk of abolishing private banking because of its potential to cause harm to the economy.

In the last month, trillions of dollars have been found. New regulations have been introduced. And countries have all committed to work collectively in the pursuit of a common goal. Unfortunately, none of this effort has been aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions; it has been aimed at something far more important—sustaining the banking system as we know it.
How are our perceptions of crises shaped? What factors make one more worthy of "emergency action" than another? Obviously, some of these factors include quite rational considerations such as the extent and likelihood of the threat and the projected cost of averting it, but what about irrational factors?

For all the damage they are both already doing, it is more accurate to consider both climate change and the credit crunch as potential rather than actual crises, since in both cases, there is far worse threatened as a result of inaction (though exactly what that "far worse" would be in the case of the credit crisis has yet to become widely publicised; instead, in most discussions of the issue the threat is kept fairly general).

Perhaps we can add other threats to this list: a nuclear terrorist attack (or simply a nuclear war); peak oil; a global pandemic; and so on. There are, at all times, a wide variety of potential threats to civilisation as we know it, though they differ considerably in scope, likelihood, cause and cost of possible solutions. Yet how are we to face the presence of such threats? I am not asking "how do you cope personally?", but how do we live together with them hanging over our heads? What effect do these threats over tomorrow have on our ability to pursue the common good today?
If you hadn't guessed, this post and the previous one are further attempts to try to articulate some of the questions I am interested in for my research. From these, I need to narrow down a more specific one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A fun little animation

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.
What effect ought potential catastrophes have on our collective moral deliberations and resolutions? This short film is one example of a discourse pattern that seems quite common. How valid are its moves? I am not here asking about the validity of its empirical claims about the present state or causes of climate change,* but the rhetorical and ethical resources this kind of discourse marshals to shape collective deliberations.
For the animator's own discussion and disclaimers on this topic, see here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Debate aftermath

I mentioned the other day that my friend Mike Paget was going to be debating an atheist on the topic "Which makes more sense: Atheism or Christianity?". Since one always comes up with the best replies about 20 minutes too late, Mike is putting some post-debate thoughts on his blog: "Oh, and another thing...". I bet McCain wishes he could do the same.

Since tomorrow is my birthday (divisible by both 5 and 3), I am about to pick up a hire car for a weekend away with Jess at a mystery destination (if I tell you, then future points might be too easy). Cue birthday wishes (I felt that those without Facebook might like some gratuitous help). See you next week.
Speaking of points, I'll give fifteen to the first to correctly guess the location this Sydney shot was taken from (on my birthday last year).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some things never change

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three questions to ask an atheist

A friend of mine is about to debate an atheist in a public forum tomorrow on the topic "Which makes more sense: Atheism or Christianity?". The planned format of the event provides each speaker a chance to ask three questions of the other (thirty seconds to frame the question and then three minutes to answer it). Whichever side you might identify with, what question(s) would you ask?

Here is a suggestion to kick off the discussion (remember, I'm more interested in hearing questions than answers at the moment): "I find in the best kind of atheism a protest against superstitious explanations and self-interested religion. What do you find most attractive about Christianity?"

For those in Sydney, the details of the event are as follows.

Participants: Alan Conradi (a member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia)* and Michael Paget (Anglican Chaplain to UTS and Executive Pastor at St Barnabas' Anglican Church Broadway)
Topic: "Which makes more sense: Atheism or Christianity?"
Date: Thursday, October 16, 2008
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: Union Theatre Gallery Lounge, University of Technology, Sydney
Cost: I assume it is free, but I could be wrong.
*Based on the definition of atheism found at this website - "Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural." - I hereby call myself an atheist (depending what one means by "factually reliable", a slippery tautology).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


"Happiness is neither in us nor outside of us; it is in God, both outside and in us."

- Blaise Pascal, Pensée, 465.

We are not the source of our own happiness, yet nor are our surroundings. Our happiness is a sharing of the joy of God. Yet rejoicing in God leads us not away from the world or ourselves, but deeper into both.

According to Spaemann (Happiness and Benevolence, 52), to deny that happiness is found in God leaves three alternatives: despair, the search for a utopia of human construction, or compromise (lowering our standards).


Monday, October 13, 2008

Scotland 2050

The David Hume Institute, an Edinburgh think-tank, is tomorrow publishing a report called "Reducing Carbon Emissions - the View from 2050". It is already available for download from here. In it, sixteen experts in different fields were asked to offer a retrospective on the effects on climate change on 21st century Scotland from an imagined standpoint in the year 2050. A summary of their crystal-ball gazing can be found here. The report offers a range of scenarios reflecting the areas of concern of the writers: from refugee movements, energy production and political instability to the rise of a Vegan Party and a renewal of eco-spirituality. One of the authors, Michael Northcott, is Professor of Ethics here at the School of Divinity in Edinburgh University.

Such predictions are usually wrong, often humorously so. The range of factors affecting the possible outcomes are myriad and complex in their interactions. But the value of these predictions does not lie in their accuracy. Instead, such pictures act as invitations to our imaginations and affections to come and see the world in a particular way, to try loving certain aspects of it and recognising present and potential threats to those good things. We can only resolve upon particular actions here and now, not in fifty years time or fifty years ago. But imaginative anticipation and memory are crucial elements in our deliberations and in the shaping of the loves and hopes that bind us together.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus X

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part IX
Conclusion: GLORY
What do you see when you look at Jesus? You can hold the book just so, squint your eyes, look into the middle distance, clear your mind and stand on one foot and still all you see is some guy, a teacher from Nazareth, a Jewish peasant, an inspirational healer.

John invites us to take another look.

The Word became flesh … and we have seen his glory, … full of grace and truth. John says, “keep looking!” Suddenly, our eyes might focus and an image leap out from the page: the Word of God made flesh, the light shining in darkness, the glory of the only Son, full of grace and truth, right there in 3DM. Do you see it?

Will we learn from John how to look at Jesus in such a way that we too can say: "we have seen his glory"? If we have the courage to open our eyes – watch out! – the glare may be dazzling.

Open our eyes. Lighten our darkness. Break our silence with your word.
Open our eyes, we want to see. We want to see Jesus,
         and be filled with his grace and truth. Amen.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

Remembering joy

"It is an art - and it belongs to the art of living of Epicurus, the most sublime and most reflective of the hedonists - to make the remembrance of past joys into a source of present comfort in situations of suffering."

- Robert Spaemann, Happiness and Benevolence (trans. Jeremiah Alberg, S.J.; University of Notre Dame, 2000 [1989]), 34-35.

The alternative, of course, is that memories of past joys can make present suffering worse through the slow poison of nostalgia. How is it possible to avoid this? In what does this art of joyful memory of which Spaemann speaks consist? How can we remember with joy that which we no longer enjoy?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus IX

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part IX
The Word became flesh. This conversation which we did not begin and into which we are invited, is to be conducted through a human, one like us. He is not so alien as to be unrecognisable. In fact, precisely the opposite: the danger is that he is too familiar. We think of him as just another guy. With six and half billion people around and in the middle of our busy lives, someone has to be pretty special to make it onto our “to meet” list.

Here’s what the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth says:

“Jesus Christ is not a demigod. He is not an angel. Nor is He an ideal man. He is a man as we are, equal to us as a creature, as a human individual, but also equal to us in the state and condition into which our disobedience has brought us. And in being what we are He is God’s Word. Thus as one of us, yet the one of us who is Himself God’s Word in person, He represents God to us and He represents us to God. In this way He is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God.”

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/2, 151.

God surprises us by speaking a word that is far less alien than we might have expected. And yet its very familiarity - its human face, ten fingers and forty-six chromosomes - makes it quite possible to disregard. The light of the world shines in our darkness and we – overlook it. The Word became flesh and moved into our neighbourhood and we – treat it like any other neighbour: with polite inattention. I don’t know about you, but what usually happens when someone new moves into our building is you each nod and smile, maybe introduce yourself, and then proceed to ignore each other as much as possible. If we let you get on with your life, you’ll let us get on with ours. Is this how we treat Jesus? Have learned to not be too inquisitive, to limit our hospitality to the surface so all we see is our own lives mirrored back? Perhaps we are so easily bored with ourselves that when one comes who is flesh like us, we assume he too is boring. We are content with superficial relationships and so look superficially and do not see anything but the ordinary.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

In the news

Bad news: fisheries failing. I expect we will continue to hear more and more about this as it will not go away quickly.

Good news: a public health success story. I expect to rarely or never hear much about this again.

UPDATE: Even worse news: the cost of ecological destruction dwarfs the credit crunch. I am not sure which is more depressing, that we are losing between US$2-5 trillion annually in ecological destruction, or that most of us won't start paying attention until the destruction is quantified economically.

Ellul on God and human freedom

God does not mechanize man. He gives him free play. He includes issues of every possible kind. Man is at the time independent. We cannot say free. Scripture everywhere reminds us that man’s independence in relation to God is in the strict sense bondage as regards sin. This man is not free. He is under the burden of his body and his passions, the conditioning of society, culture, and function. He obeys its judgments and setting. He is controlled by its situation and psychology. Man is certainly not free in any degree. He is the slave of everything save God. God does not control or constrain him. God lets him remain independent in these conditions.

- Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man
(trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1972 [1966]), 16.

I wonder how Ellul understands Paul's discussion of being "slaves to righteousness" in Romans 6. Immediately after using the phrase, Paul does mention that he considers it imprecise. So Ellul is certainly onto something important here in how God exercises his authority. Being a slave to sin is a very different kind of service to being a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose service is perfect freedom.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus VIII

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part VIII
3. FLESH – carnal spirituality

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The light that gives light to everyone came into the world. But not as a brilliant and dazzlingly bright burning star that consumed and destroyed everything it touched. The Word, the eternal divine self-expression, the perfection through which the world was made, became flesh. Sweaty, spongy, smelly, unsightly, weak, vulnerable, graspable, pinchable, piercable, crucifiable flesh. Just like you, just like me: flesh. The infinite wisdom of eternity became limited, ignorant, mortal flesh.

If you weren’t offended by God’s verbosity in the Word, if you weren’t turned off by the promise of public disclosure in the Light, then you probably weren’t paying attention. But if the Word becoming flesh doesn’t make your eyes goggle, then you haven’t understood it.

The Word became flesh. Just as God took the initiative from the start, so he also took the first step in our need, in our disconnection from him, in our love of the darkness.

The Word became flesh. God’s love doesn’t wait for us to become something else first; he runs to embrace us as we are, to show us the hidden depths and beauty of being human.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And so God is with us, amongst us, for us – not distant and cold.

The Word became flesh, without ceasing to the Word, without contradicting who he was. So this man – this humble, loving, gentle, provocative, grace-filled, honest man – this one is what God himself is like.

The Word became flesh: truly, fully human flesh. And so this man lives how humans are meant to live: thankful, trusting, obedient, compassionate, bold, genuine, unafraid, fully alive.

The Word became flesh. And so to be mere flesh is not automatically to fail. Our bodies, our finite, weak and vulnerable lives, are able to hear and touch and begin to know God in the flesh. Spirituality is not just about the mind, or about transcending the physical or the particular. Spirituality is carnal, fleshy; it’s able to be lived. What we do with our body matters. Christianity is not abstract or theoretical.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

Another new discovery: the God gene

In another exiting discovery for human knowledge, John Cleese has discovered the "God gene", which gives people the need to believe in God.

H/T Stephen Cook.
C. S. Lewis was making this argument back in the middle of last century; reductive naturalism explains away not only God but also the very rationality which would support reductive naturalism.

New(-ish) evidence of early Jesus worship

It seems that it was unearthed back in 2003-05, but I've only just heard about the discovery of a third-century Christian prayer hall in Megiddo, a town in Israel. The remarkable thing about the site (apart from being discovered under a high-security prison still in use) is that it contains well-preserved mosaics complete with inscriptions. In one, a benefactor, Gaianus, is described as a centurion and in another a woman called Akeptous is said to have "offered this table in memorial of the God Jesus Christ".

This is remarkable physical evidence of the beliefs and social composition of early Christian communities in Palestine (more discussion here). In particular, it is yet another refutation of the ludicrous idea (made popular through The Da Vinci Code) that Jesus' divinity was a novel idea pushed on the church by Constantine at Nicea.

This find was brought to my attention by the work of John Dickson and Greg Clarke from the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), who are putting together a documentary called The Life of Jesus, looking at evidence for the historical Jesus and early Christianity and filmed on location in the Middle East. They are posting short pieces about their experiences on the road here.
Image by N. Davidov, IAA, taken from here. H/T Moffitt for pointing out the SydAng article.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Scepticism and hedonism

"...just as scepticism overcomes itself by bringing the standpoint of doubting into doubt, so does hedonism overcome itself in that the redonistic reflection looks at itself and questions whether we really feel our best when we are concerned with nothing besides feeling good. The answer to this question is no."

- Robert Spaemann, Happiness and Benevolence (trans. Jeremiah Alberg, S.J.; University of Notre Dame, 2000 [1989]), 32.

Spaemann is a fan of both scepticism and hedonism. He is not out to win a quick knock-down victory through this self-refutation point. He wants both of them in a more sophisticated, self-critical form. Just before this, he has approvingly quoted Hegel's comment that true philosophy is "fully accomplished scepticism". Later (p. 39), he goes on to praise Epicurus for thinking through the consequences of friendship to their end, even at the expense of hedonism:
"The full enjoyment of friendship only comes to the one who is not fixated on the enjoyment. And Epicurus draws out the consequences without reservation. The saying that giving is more blessed than receiving, which we know from the Gospel, is found also in Epicurus. One could understand it in such a way that one must, in order to enjoy life, engage oneself to a certain degree, but always in such a way that the costs-benefits balance. Epicurus goes farther: 'Under certain circumstances the wise one will also die for a friend.' For, only under this condition is the friendship authentic. And only when it is authentic do we have from it what one can have from friendship, its full 'enjoyment'. The wise one chooses, according to Epicurus, the way of living which holds the greatest enjoyment. The dialectic of hedonism, its self-negation, cannot be more clearly articulated. The saying, 'The one who keeps his life will lose it' is valid for every selfish system."

This is my body...

I've been pondering recently the words of administration used in Communion/Eucharist/Lord's Supper services when the elements are served to the communicants. I'm no sacramentologist or liturgical historian and don't really want to get into debates about real presence, however, a little piece of liturgical history might help give some context for those unfamiliar with such debates.

In his 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the first of its kind in English, Anglican Reformer Archbishop Cranmer instructed that these words be used by the minister "when he delivereth the Bread/Cup to anyone":

The body/blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given/shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.
These words are often read as referring to the identity of the elements so that (in some "physical" sense) the bread is Christ's body and the wine is his blood. However, notice that Cranmer's words are ambiguous. Taking the form of a prayer, they simply petition God for the preservation of the communicant's salvation (notice too the good resurrection theology implied in body and soul) through the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Nothing is said explicitly here about the status of the elements, leaving open a variety of different understandings about the relationship between the bread and wine being consumed and the body and blood which save.

By the 1552 edition of the prayer book, Archbishop Cranmer replaced the words of administration with this formula:
Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. ... Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
The feeding upon Christ is now explicitly in thy heart and by faith. Notice again, however, that nothing is said explicitly about the status of the elements.

Part of Cranmer's genius in both formulations is to shift our attention from the status of the elements to the meaning of the act of eating them. This meaning is tied in with Christ's saving work in his death; to speak of shed blood and a broken body make a closer reference to the narrative of Christ's passion than simply mentioning body and blood.

In 1559, after Cranmer's execution, a third English prayer book was approved by Elizabeth I. The words of administration were simply a combination of 1549 and 1552:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; and take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. ... The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; and drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
It's quite a mouthful, but it was this form that was picked up and used again in the definitive 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which continued to be the standard until a series of liturgical revisions across the Anglican communion in the twentieth century.

In Scotland, the words of administration were revised a number of time. In 1929, they were pared back to just the 1549 words, then a further revision in 1970 added this instruction: After the Words of Administration the Communicant shall answer Amen. The Words of Administration may be shortened at the discretion of the Priest. And then in 1982 (the current form still in use), a decisive shift occurred:
The Body/Blood of Christ given/shed for you.
Notice not only the capitals, but more importantly, the grammatical shift from petition to exclamation. No longer is a prayer being offered for the preservation of the communicant's salvation through Christ's passion. Instead, a nominal phrase (without a main verb) is substituted, which has the function of directing attention back to the elements themselves. More or less, these words say "Wow!" or "Look!".

However, having been to a number of communion services here in Scotland, I've noticed in both Scottish Episcopalian (Anglican) and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) gatherings that even the narrative reference to "giving" and "shedding" are dropped, leaving simply the Roman Catholic words, which are short and to the point:
The body/blood of Christ.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Nations have no right to exist

...the right of national self-determination does not exist in the Bible. Before God nations have neither a right to exist nor a right to liberty. They have no assurance of perpetuity. On the contrary, the lesson of the Bible seems to be that nations are swept away like dead leaves and that occasionally, almost by accident, one might endure rather longer.

- Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man
(trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1972 [1966]), 27-28.

We have no divine guarantee that the present international order will not be swept away. Quite the contrary: autumn may have already begun.

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus VII

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part VII
Verses 9-13 then give us a condensed version of the plot of the rest of the Gospel. It’s like the trailer, giving us glimpses into what is to come in the main feature.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

This story seems to be a tragedy. The source of all that is going unrecognised, unthanked, unreceived. The creator entering his creation and being overlooked. The director walking on set and being ignored. But in the end, it will not be a tragedy. The ignorance is not total, the distraction is not universal. Some recognise him, believe in him, are welcomed into the conversation as loved children.

As readers, the pressure is on: are we going to recognise him? John is making sure we’re given plenty of warning. We face a strange situation: in the pages of this text we are to meet the one who is the light of all people, who gives light to everyone, who is the source of life and through whom all things were made, and yet, who ordinary enough to be missed. The single most amazing figure in history, but blink and you might miss him.

How is this possible? It’s as though people were walking around outside in broad daylight and didn’t notice the sun shining in their faces. The very light that enables them to see is almost too bright to look at directly. They don’t want to look at the light.

A few chapters further in, John has an even stronger explanation of how people can miss the sun shining in their faces: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. All those who do evil hate the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3.19b-21)

Light doesn’t just illuminate, bringing warmth and the possibility of life. Light also exposes. To keep reading, trying to gain a fresh look at Jesus, might not only mean being dazzled, but it might uncover things we’d rather stayed hidden. Talking with God, being addressed by his Word, having his light shine on you is dangerous. Very dangerous. Much safer to stay in the dark. Much safer to close the book, to walk away. Is your life comfortable? It will be easier if you stop coming to church. Or if you do keep coming, then better make sure Jesus stays safely familiar as a friend, or securely distant as an inspiring historical figure. Try not to take his words too seriously, because he lived in a different culture don’t forget. Don’t pay too much attention; don’t become fanatical. Cultivate a healthy cynicism. Make sure there are always excuses to not get too involved. If you want to keep your feet on the ground, then please ensure that you don’t try reading the Bible for yourself, you don’t make more than small talk at morning tea, stick to people you know, treat the liturgy as a nice ritual, the songs as a chance to stretch your legs, the confession as a vague generality, communion as just a beautiful quiet moment. Really, it’s much safer for everyone that way. Don’t open the door, it’s much nicer in the dark and we don’t have to face one another. We don’t have to be honest with ourselves. We can avoid hearing God’s unsettling query: where are you?

Plato allegedly once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Now everyone can walk on the sea of Galilee

I'm afraid I can't embed this one.
Next up, feeding the crowds with only five glasses of water.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus VI

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part VI
In him was life and that life was the light of all people. (v. 4) The source of life was in him, in the Word, God’s Logos. God made us, by his Word. He sustains us by his Word. He gives us the light of life, the brightness of being alert and active, the illumination of knowing and seeing. If we enjoy shining a little ourselves, it is not because we generate our own light; at best we reflect this original gift as the moon reflects the sun.

Then in verse 5 comes the first hint of a problem, the first stirrings of the tension that will drive all of John’s narrative. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Here, the first shadow has fallen across the plot. There is a darkness that stands against this light. Even though all things were made through the Word, who is also the light, yet there is darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There is an implicit threat to life, to light, to God’s good conversation, but this threat will not extinguish the God and his Word who have been there since the beginning.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (vv. 6-8) Suddenly in verse 6 we have two new elements introduced. First, we’re brought into historical time. No longer are we still in the beginning; we’ve entered into a particular point at which there was a man. Second, we meet this man, God’s messenger, whose name was John. We’ll soon find this John is not the author, but another John: John the Baptiser. John the author wants to make sure we’re not confused; this baptiser is not himself the light, even though he is from God. He is a signpost, pointing away from himself, saying “look – over there!” We’ll be hearing more about John the Baptist from Mike in two weeks’ time.
Picture by JKS. Ten points for the Australian location (region will suffice).
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.

Why compulsory voting is a good thing

Because Australia doesn't need to make videos like this. Don't make them beg. Please.

UPDATE: If the whole world could vote. H/T Dan.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Word became flesh: looking again at Jesus V

A sermon from John 1.1-14: Part V
2. LIGHT – shining in the darkness

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 light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

- John 1.1-5.

The generously conversational God spoke the world into being. He is the source of all that is. Nothing can avoid being in relationship to him via his creative word. If you exist, if you’re alive, you’re already a recipient of his grace. Your very life and breath is a gift from outside. I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t earn the right to start breathing. Every time the sun rises on a new day, all we can do is receive it with empty hands and thanks. Like the sun, the source of our life streams relentlessly into us from a source beyond us, a source we cannot control and can only accept.

Let’s listen to one artist’s thoughts on this theme. This is from a track called “You are the Sun” by Sara Groves.
You are the sun shining down on everyone
Light of the world giving light to everything I see
Beauty so brilliant I can hardly take it in
And everywhere you are is warmth and light

And I am the moon with no light of my own
Still you have made me to shine
And as I glow in this cold dark night
I know I can’t be a light unless I turn my face to you

Shine on me with your light
Without you I’m a cold dark stone
Shine on me, I have no light of my own
You are the sun, you are the sun, you are the sun
And I am the moon

Twelve points for the first to guess the Scottish location in the photo.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X.