Saturday, December 30, 2006

Brief break

This is the day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

- Psalm 118.24

May your new year bring 365 new days in which to rejoice.

I will be off-line for a few days, but when I return I have much to post. I will continue my new series "Worse than Death?", get back into discussion of Peak Oil, post a thought on corporate growth, a little more on Volf's book and share a little personal news. While you're waiting, feel free to check out older posts linked on the right.

There is more to come...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Worse than death? I

A short new series
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

Psalm 63.3

Death is a Bad Thing. Death is the last enemy. It is not a comfort, a friend, a doorway to the world beyond, the river Styx before Hades or even the river Jordan on the threshold of the promised land.

However, it is an enemy that stands already defeated. The final silence of irrevocable parting has been broken by Easter laughter. For those who hope in the resurrected one, death has become sleep, with the secure promise of awakening at his return. This means that though its hostility is not diminished, there is no need for fear or despair in facing it daily (as we all do, to greater and lesser extents of consciousness and proximity).

Although we rage against the often pointless tragedy of death (particularly many deaths), and mourn all loss of life, it is nonetheless possible for this 'rage' to be expressed through a defiantly peaceful confidence as well as tears and anger. Christian A put it well in his comment on an earlier post where he pointed to the example of Simeon in the infancy narrative that so many of us have recently read:
"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30)

Is it possible to “depart in peace” in a way that still shows the kind of disgust for death that Jesus showed outside Lazarus’s tomb? Perhaps we should rail against death not with despair but with assured anticipation.
In the light of the visible arrival of God's salvation in this little child, Simeon's imminent departure is now filled with hope. This salvation is not from death, as if he can now avoid walking this dark path altogether, but will be salvation from out of death - new life on the far side of sleep.

Thus, because God's salvation has begun in Christ (though is not yet complete), death takes its place as a secondary foe of humanity. While death will be the last enemy to finally submit to Christ's rule (1 Cor 15.26), it is not the Great Enemy, the Adversary.

There are things worse than death.
Series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI.
Fifteen points for correctly naming these pre-historic standing stones.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Free of Charge

Highly recommended
What is a gift? What does it mean to be a giver? How can giving be more than a business transaction? How ought we to forgive? Does repentence need to precede forgiveness? How can we forgive? Is it possible to be a little bit like God in our giving and forgiving?

Crotian theologian Miroslav Volf (author of the highly stimulating Exclusion and Embrace) wrote a popular level book for Lent 2006 called Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. Jessica and I have been reading it slowly over the last couple of weeks and have really appeciated the straightforward ways he lays out the connections and distinctions between giving and forgiving with both theological depth and a light and accessible touch. These two basic modes of interpersonal interaction are at the heart of what it is to be Christian because they are very much on God's heart. Whether or not you're a believer, this book will gently stretch you and invite you into a way of life and of the heart that gets beyond the destructiveness of revenge and taking, even beyond mere justice and earning, all the way into giving and forgiving.

Revenge multiples evil. Retributive justice contains evil - and threatens the world with destruction. Forgiveness overcomes evil with good. Forgiveness mirrors the generosity of God whose ultimate goal is neither to satisfy injured pride nor to justly apportion reward and punishment, but to free sinful humanity from evil and thereby reestablish communion with us. This is the gospel in its stark simplicity - as radically countercultural and at the same time as beautifully human as anything one can imagine.

- Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 161. More on this book.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas?

If you're tired of hearing "Merry Christmas" morning, noon and night, if such wishes seem like cruel mockery rather than genuine possibility, Meredith posts some insightful thoughts on why we can rejoice in hope at Christmas, even amidst pain. Thanks Meredith, and a truly joyous feast of the incarnation to one and all: God is with us.

UPDATE: Check out this Christmas sermon from Kim Fabricius.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fearless service III

In earlier posts, I started laying out some thoughts for a sermon I would have preached on Luke 1.67-80. Having been liberated from a divinely-imposed silence, Zechariah bursts into song over the divinely-acheived salvation of Israel. Such salvation means not simply deliverance from the hands of enemies, but more fundamentally "light to those who sit in darkness, in the shadow of death".

This is all of us. None of us by worrying are able to add a single hour to our life. None of us can guarantee tomorrow. We are all dying, giving birth astride a grave. Although some might be more aware of being close to death, this is a matter of quantity rather than quality. The universally deadly future casts its grim shadow back upon all the living. Our society either obsesses over death, or refuses to look or think about it. Either way - whether in explicit fixation, or implicitly through resolute denial - we live as though death is the definitive reality in life, colouring all existence.

It is this morbid situation that Zechariah realises God is addressing. How does God execute this salvation from the shadow of death? By raising up a mighty saviour in the royal line of David. Of course, this points forward to the rest of Luke's narrative. By the end of the story, that a saviour has been "raised up" (now with an extra and more direct meaning) makes all the difference to those who pale at the approach of death. Zechariah puts it like this: "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The resurrection of Jesus dispells the gloom of death. Death is still there, but its terrors melt away in the breaking dawn.

And what is the intended goal of this salvation? God doesn't simply remove the negative, but replaces it with a positive design. From sitting in darkness, we can now rise and walk "the way of peace". Having been saved from enemies, especially the last enemy death, we are liberated to fearless service.

Service seems risky. So often, we are anxious that if we pour our lives out in service of God and neighbour, we might miss out. Our attempts to bless might be repaid with curses. We might be left forgotten. But the one who remembered his holy covenant with Abraham will not forget you. And the one who has dawned upon us will bring everything to light.

Daylight is come, our saviour is risen, the path of peace lies gleaming before us. Let us follow our master in service without fear.
Series: I; II; III.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Eco on writing for others

[There is] another view common to bad writers - namely, that one writes only for oneself. Do not trust those who say so: they are dishonest and lying narcissists.

There is only one thing that you write for yourself, and that is a shopping list. It helps to remember what you have to buy, and when you have bought everything you can destroy it, because it is no use to anyone else. Every other thing that you write, you write to say something to someone.

I have often asked myself: would I still write today if they told me that tomorrow a cosmic catastrophe would destroy the universe, so that no one could read tomorrow what I wrote today?

My first instinct is to reply no. Why write if no one will read me? My second instinct is to say yes, but only because I cherish the desperate hope that, amid the galactic catastrophe, some star might survive, and in the future someone might decipher my signs. In that case writing, even on the eve of the Apocalypse, would still make sense.

One writes only for a reader. Whoever says he writes only for himself is not necessarily lying. It is just that he is frighteningly atheistic. Even from a rigorously secular point of view.

Unhappy and desperate the writer who cannot address a future reader.

-Umberto Eco, 'How I Write' in On Literature, 334.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fearless service II

When we left him at the end of an earlier post, Zechariah's months of divinely-imposed silence were finally broken and he bursts into thanksgiving. For what does he give thanks?

For the salvation of Israel that has come from the hand of her god Yahweh. This salvation has an impressive pedigree. It is in line with the royal promises to David, and ultimately goes back to the binding promises God made to Abraham. Just as the prophets of old kept this promise alive to each generation, so Zechariah's son, born in his old age, will also 'be called a prophet of the Most High' and will 'give knowledge of salvation to his people'.

But what is this salvation from? Most directly, 'from our enemies' or 'from the hands of our enemies'. This is a regular theme in the books of Judges and Samuel: God appoints a warrior to lead Israel in battle against her oppressor. To Israel under the sandal of Rome, such stories expressed yearnings at once tantalising and dangerous. Until the pagan empire of Caesar gave way to God's rule expressed through a commissioned Israelite, Israel knew she continued to suffer for the sins that had led to her sorry condition in the first place. Thus, salvation from being ruled by enemies would be the concrete sign that her sins were now forgiven.

But Zechariah sees a deeper reality. There are enemies worse than Romans. Israel is not just occupied by a foreign superpower, but is sitting in the darkness of the shadow cast by the real enemy: death. Zechariah's son will proclaim his prophetic announcement not simply to a nation in search of political autonomy, but to an audience enslaved by fear of death. This fear is what gives every tyrant or Caesar his power. It makes uncertain every plan, ends every dream, silences every voice.

This is where we all sit.
Series: I; II; III.

Do not go gentle

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas, 1952

This poem, one of my favourites, was composed by Thomas in May 1951 (published 1952) when his father was approaching blindness and death. The 'good night' is thus both the darkness at the end of vision and of life.

But why rage? Why not accept the inevitable with dignity and composure? Why desire life beyond one hundred, when vision dims, memory blurs, the body rebels and friends desert one by one?

Because life is a good gift. Because death is the final enemy of humanity and God.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Do you want to live to a hundred?

What is your immediate gut response? Is it any different once you've had a chance to reflect?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Barth on Jesus Christ

“Jesus Christ means: God, not against the human, or – which would be even worse – without him, but God with him and for him as his Friend and Helper and Saviour and Guarantor. Jesus Christ means: God himself becomes the human’s Neighbour and Brother…. Jesus Christ is in person the faithfulness of God which draws near to the human’s unfaithfulness and overpowers it, as God the creator not only confirms and maintains his covenant with his creature but once and for all leads it to its goal and secures it against every threat. Jesus Christ is the reconciliation of the world to God which does not merely look and go beyond human sin but sets it aside…. He is the kingdom of God which with its comfort and healing has approached and invaded torn humanity suffering from a thousand wounds, and put an end to its misery…. In a word: he is the goodness of God.”

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3, 798-99. H/T Ben.

Barneys update

When I began this blog, my church building at St Barnabas, Broadway had just burned down. I posted thoughts on this here, here, here and especially here. For those interested in the progress of this issue, here is the latest update on the Sydney Anglican website, including some comments from our rector, Ian Powell.
More posts on Barneys and the fire: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.

Ben's "Theology for beginners"

Ben Myers has now completed his excellent 22-part series Theology for beginners. Go and have a look if you are looking for a lively summary of Christian thought, an introduction to key theological topics, a wide-ranging theological bibliography, or just some plain good writing.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

- Psalm 27.1

Does the imminent approach of a large and unknown danger make our daily worries pale into insignificance? Do our quotidian, pedestrian worries fade away at the approach of a new and greater terror? On the contrary, the daily battle against insecurities and anxieties is where the action is at. A thousand little fears can shrink our lives far more effectively than an illness or tragedy.

Why is it possible not to fear? Because the LORD is my light: not the comforting night-light to hold back the shadows of the dark, nor 'the lantern which a traveller in the dark carries in his hand - but the glow on his face of the coming dawn' (Lesslie Newbigin). It is because we believe in this one that fear no longer makes sense.

What does it mean to not fear? It is to trust this Lord to do his will, not mine. It is to love those around me without being lost in self-absorption, to give myself wholeheartedly to my neighbour and not hold back in case the potential loss is too painful. It is to remain thankful despite great loss and refuse the easy temptation of bitterness. To refuse also the pull of despair and instead to groan in hope; to look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.

Let us fear not. This is our task and prayer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fearless service I

Notes for a sermon
Yesterday I was meant to be preaching at all three services, but because of my voice, I missed out. Here are some thoughts on what I might have said. The passage was Zechariah's prophecy regarding his son John [the Baptist] (Luke 1.67-80):

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
   “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
      for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
   He has raised up a mighty savior for us
      in the house of his servant David,
   as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
      that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
   Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
      and has remembered his holy covenant,
   the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
      to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
   might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
      before him all our days.
   And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
      for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
   to give knowledge of salvation to his people
      by the forgiveness of their sins.
   By the tender mercy of our God,
      the dawn from on high will break upon us,
   to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
      to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Zechariah, the priest of Yahweh had been struck dumb by an angel for nine months for doubting when he heard that his elderly and apparently barren wife was to bear his first child (Luke 1.18-20). Once the child is named during circumcision, Zechariah regains his lost voice and his first words are praise (1.64). It seems nine months of watching God's promise grow has taken this priest from doubt to new-found faith.

Having been (semi-)silenced myself over the last weeks, I have some vague idea of how many thoughts and emotions must have pressed forward, clamoring for expression at that moment. So many misunderstandings to clear up, so many shared experiences to be acknowledged and clarified, so many plans entertained and formulated.

But before all that comes praise. In enforced silence, cut off from the regular blessing of daily conversation, Zechariah has rediscovered the primary purpose of human speech: to address God. In silence he has re-learned the primacy of God's speech, that God's word made the heavens and earth and everything in them (Gen 1; Ps 33.6), that until God first addresses us, calling us into being, calling us by name, we are voiceless. The gift of human language is one of the ways in which are like God, and just as children learn to speak by being spoken to, humans come to speech through God first speaking to us.

Zechariah therefore appropriately addresses his first words Godwards in response. This reply in the presence of others, who overhear, is praise.

And he gives thanks. For his regained voice? Possibly. But when we turn to the content of his praise in our passage, we find other concerns uppermost.
Series: I; II; III.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

MLK and the apple tree

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote illustrates a hope in God in the face of disaster that I find quite inspirational. Every small enacted hope requires faith in the God who raises the dead and calls into being the things that are not (Romans 4.17). Such a faith neither desperately clutches at the present out of fear of change and loss, nor does it need to reject the present as irrelevant in the light of impending catastrophe. The good gifts of today can be celebrated without idolatrous hoarding or thankless world-denial. Although Stoic thought (and some forms of Eastern philosophy) would counsel us to minimise our desires to avoid the pain when (as is almost inevitable) they are frustrated, Christian hope is free to love deeply, to mourn keenly, to yearn fearlessly.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Milton on calling

Apart from being a theologian and blogger par excellence, Ben Myers is also a published expert on 17thC English poet John Milton. He's posted a great Milton poem and some liberating reflections on what it means to be called by God. Particularly relevant for those of us who find our own urgent sense of importance paralysing our ability to serve.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


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.

- Matthew 5.3-10

As Jesus spoke to Israel once again gathered around the mountain, the future so overshadowed the present that what was yet to be determined the meaning of the present. The triumph of the second half of each line is not to make the first half redundant or marginal. On the contrary, it is the very yearning woven into the condition of the first half that is to be abundantly satisfied. Our desires are not ignored, replaced or marginalised by God's promise. In the light of the coming future, it is not our desires that need to go, but our fears.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The godfather

I became a godfather last night (and currently have the voice to go with the part). Having been raised in churches that didn't use this practice, I'd love to hear some stories about having and being godparents. What have you appreciated about the role? What are the potential difficulties? What are your best memories of your godparents? Do you have any advice for us?


Having been tagged by Elizaphanian, here are my answers to this meme of the silly season.*

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate. Egg nog has never really made it Australia, though since Christmas means summer and temperatures often in the 30s (=over 90F for those stuck in the past), hot chocolate doesn't make much sense either.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? I thought he outsourced all wrapping to elves.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Neither.

4. Do you hang mistletoe on your house? No. No mistletoe in Austrlia. No house to hang it on.

5. When do you put your decorations up? We don't have decorations. We are so infrequently at home around Christmas that we just freeload on the decorations of others.

6. What is your favorite holiday meal (excluding dessert)? Summer fruits: cherries, plums, bananas and especially passionfruit.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Christmas in Scotland while on holidays when I was nine. To a young colonial boy, Christmas in the motherland complete with address by the Queen was a fascinating mix of novelty and deep familiarity.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Which one? One year when I was probably around 6 or 7 I saw Mum and Dad buy the gifts that ended up coming from Santa. A few years later I learned the truth about St Nicholas. A few years later again I learned the role that Coke played in creating the modern image of Santa. And then a few years later I started thinking about the social and relational function(s) of Santa. Truth is a complicated concept.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Sometimes. We've recently started a tradition of having dinner with a close friend on Christmas eve and this sometimes involves presents. See also #13 below.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? No tree. See above.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? In Sydney?

12. Can you ice skate? Yes. Took my wife ice skating on one of our first dates.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Life - received every breath, every day. New life - received on Christmas eve fifteen years ago.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? God with us.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Whatever is available on years when I manage to avoid eating too much before dessert to be able to fit any in.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Gathering for church late on Christmas eve with great expectation and joy.

17. What tops your tree? See above.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? Receiving. A close call, but we are all fundamentally recipients before we are called to imitate and participate in God's generosity.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Hark! The herald angels sing, Joy to the World or O Come, o come, Emmanuel. The last is probably my overall favourite, but you don't hear it as often.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or yummy? In primary school, they used to function as a currency of popularity at the end of the year as everyone would hand them out to their friends.

21. Favorite Christmas Movie? Are there any good ones? There have sometimes been some good Boxing Day movies, but which studio is so short-sighted as to release a film on Christmas Day?

22. What would you most like to find under your tree this year? My voice back again.

23. Favorite Holiday memory as an adult? Discovering that there are so many delightful members of my extended family (I come from a very large extended family and as a child was always a little intimidated by the sheer numbers at Christmas gatherings).
*During a recent doctor's appointment, I revealed that I have been studying theology and am to work as a Christian minister. From this point on, my doctor was obviously embarrassed every time he made reference to the 'silly season'. As always, it was only afterwards I thought of a response: 'It is indeed silly that we have managed to turn a time with such reason for joy into a season of stress and anxiety.'

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Weekend links

• I've already mentioned Rev Sam on peak oil pledges. Go and have a look.
• Ben has been thinking about how to settle theological debates.
• Meredith has started a series of "ten things I think about the environment": Intro; I; II; III. As a bonus, there are lots of great pics by Meredith too.
• Kyle has declared War on Christmas.
• David is worried about Surnames and sexism. I suggest what I humbly believe to be the perfect solution (see discussion in comments).

The rest of the virtual world
Bono + sacramental theology = U2charist? H/T Aaron.
• If you're feeling a little down - make sure you scroll down to 'Mediocrity' and 'Quality'. H/T Paget.
• And check out these for corny but fun political activism: The Meatrix; The Meatrix II; The Meatrix II 1/2.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Archbishop Herft on women and the Bible

The Most Rev Roger Herft, Anglican Archbishop of Perth, made headlines in Australia a few weeks ago for likening the dominant view in the Sydney Diocese of women's ordination (i.e. against) with some widely reported controversial comments from Sheikh Taj El-Deen El-Hilali, Mufti of Australia. If you were disappointed with the Archbishop's actions a few weeks ago, it is worth reading his clarification and apology. Whether or not you agree with his comments about biblical interpretation, his initiatives towards reconciliation and ongoing dialogue with Sydney despite differences are commendable.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The End of Suburbia III

Peak Oil: Denial
As I mentioned recently, I've begun a short series to think theologically about at least one aspect of Peak Oil.
Another good introduction can be found here, and for an excellent and accessible introduction including some Christian reflections, see here.

In my previous post, I briefly laid out the problem - a huge global economic downturn. The assumption of infinite potential growth requires the possibility of ever expanding energy. While there may be many other sources of energy we haven't yet considered or discovered how best to harness,* part of the issue is that there may be insufficient time to develop these. And even if the more optimistic estimates of some oil companies are accurate, we have only a few decades left. Weaning the global economy off oil and changing our assumptions about the extravagant use of energy might take that long. So even if the dire predictions prove false, there are still good reasons to be thinking about this issue today.
*A number of celebrated alternative energy sources actually require more energy input than they yield! Even those that generate a net gain are nowehere near as efficient as oil. There is no silver bullet single solution.

There are many sites that summarise the arguments over this issue (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on),* and many more that make excellent suggestions about practical ways forward (Rev Sam recently composed a list of 11 pledges - worth a look).
*Let me know if I've missed your favourite site. There are many.

These discussions are important and I recommend gaining at least a little knowledge of the key factors involved. However, it is my contention that any 'solution' must first be theological because the problem first raised for most people when faced with some of the hard statistics is either denial or despair. I will deal with the latter in my next post. The former, when accompanied by a willingness to look closely at the arguments, is healthy up to a point, though becomes problematic when it reverts to blind faith in the market or some other talisman of protection.

For Christians, there is of course another kind of blind faith: that God would not let something so catastrophic occur. However, this too is blind faith without scriptural support. The fact is that God has and does allow civilisations to decline or self-destruct. Jeremiah warned against the blind faith of his compatriots in the temple, soon to be destroyed by the Babylonians, along with the nation itself. Jesus had a similar message for nationalists in his day. Many Christians in the time of Augustine believed that the "Christian" Roman Empire could not fail, so he spent much of City of God relativising the pretensions of Rome to immortality. After the fall of the Western empire, populations in many areas of Western Europe halved. The same area again lost between one and two thirds of its population during the Black Death, which was also accompanied by widespread social breakdown. To mention just one more example, perhaps a small-scale parable for Peak Oil can be found in the history of Easter Island. Ongoing de-forestation (amongst other factors) - at least partially to continue the production and installation of the enormous stone statues for which the island is famous - led to the collapse of a thriving civilisation and a population reduction of about 90% over a century.

Just as there is no reason the church ought to jump on the latest bandwagon and endorse every passing fad, there is also nothing pious about blind denial. If 'business as usual' is less the giddy sensation of flying through endless economic growth and more a deadly freefall, then the church ought not to ignore these issues. I am no expert and could be wrong, but I suspect the issues are worth more than a passing glance. Even if there are decades of cheap oil left, rather than years, our present energy-rich lifestyle is both unsustainable and unable to be extrapolated to the rest of the world. Wasteful excess may be passed off by the rich as a celebration of God's provision, but if the rich eat all the food before the poor arrive, then are we 'show[ing] contempt for the church of God and humiliat[ing] those who have nothing'? It is at least worth asking the question.

I have used this quote before, but it is worth repeating:

‘Eschatology is not a doctrine about history’s happy end…. No one can assure us that the worst will not happen. According to all the laws of experience: it will. We can only trust that even the end of the world hides a new beginning if we trust the God who calls into being the things that are not, and out of death creates new life.’

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God , 234.

Series so far: I; II; III, IV.
Ten points for the location of this sign.

Monday, November 27, 2006

In the image of God

Kim Fabricius is at it again. The ten point theologian who haunts Ben Myers's Faith and Theology has offered his most stimulating contribution to date: ten propositions on being human. Poetic and insightful, they are worth a read (although a warning that some of them assume some background in theology).
I was about to also make a few critical remarks in addition to one or two points I made in the comments, but have since realised that D. W. Congdon (from The Fire and the Rose) has already made them (here).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Farewell to MTC

Finally divine
After four years, and roughly 80,000 words of assignments, 90 hours of exams, 300 hours of chapel, 600 hours of communal meals and 1,500 lectures, I am finally divine (I have always assumed that was the goal of a Bachelor of Divinity). Four years at Moore Theological College have brought many friends, much fun, more than a few tears, a few extra kilos, lots of great reading, and an ever growning awareness of how far there is to go in every conceivable direction.

For the first time in twenty-three years, I will not be part of an educational institution (either studying or teaching). The dizzying open horizons and lack of little lunch scare me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hauerwas on just war and pacificism

While we think just warrior are wrong, they might not be - another way of saying that we think the just war position as articulated by an Augustine or a Paul Ramsey is a significant challenge to our own Christian pacificism and is theological to its core. Just warriors and pacificists within the Christian church must be committed to continued engagements that teach them not only to recognize their differences but also their similarities, similarities that make them far more like one another than the standard realists' accounts of war that rule our contemporary culture and that have taken a firm hold in the church.

- Stanley Hauerwas, 'Courage Exemplified' in The Hauerwas Reader, 303.

I thought Stanley might offer an apt reminder in these conflicts over how Christians can conflict. Keep it up everyone.

Heaven in the rear-view mirror: Links

As requested, here are all the links to the series on heaven.
I: Heaven: don't worry it's not the end of the world
II: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
IIa: Life and afterlife: quote and reflections
III: God is in his heaven...
IV: Heaven help us!
V: Heavenly salvation: origin, not destination
VI: Citizens of heaven
VII: Heaven is a place on earth
VIII: New heavens and new earth
IX: The Christian hope: The Resurrection of the Dead
X: Images of the future
XI: The end of the world: replacement or renewal?
XII: Spirituality as groaning
XIII: Aliens and strangers
XIV: Seeing God
XV: Series summary
XVI: Implications, or why matter matters
A few people have asked about the intermediate state and pastoral questions frequently asked. I will try to post something of a postscript on such things soonishly. A friend at college (Tony) has recently completed 15,000 words on such things and so I'll go and have a read, now that I have finished college (as of today!).
Thanks to Matt for doing most of the legwork on these links.
UPDATE: I do still intend to write something about the intermediate state, but other circumstances have delayed me for the moment. I will come back to this.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Must Christians be pacifists? III

A series by Andrew Errington
III: The cross and the wrath of God
I have been arguing that governing authorities who “bear the sword” are a God-given provision for this age, servants of God who provisionally and imperfectly reflect his final judgment on the last day. This does not weaken Jesus’ ethic of non-resistance and nonviolence for the Christian community. “Judge not,” says our Lord; and we dare not disregard his warning. Yet it does mean that “within the New Testament the sphere of public judgment [that is, the determinations of right and wrong made and enforced by political authority] constitutes a carefully circumscribed and specially privileged exception to a general prohibition of judgment” (Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 99). Within this carefully circumscribed sphere the use of “violence” (in some sense) to forcefully enact judgments cannot be ruled out as categorically wrong.

A clear view of the wrath of God is central to this argument. Without it, Christian ethics are unintelligible. The wrath of God means Christians must not resist the evildoer, but instead love their enemies and overcome evil with good; and it means governing authorities must resist the evildoer, bearing the sword with justice.

This position remains deeply Christocentric. It is because Jesus himself will one day return to judge the living and the dead that we may contemplate the ways of judgment here and now. Yet it is perhaps a less cross-centred ethics than that advocated by Kim Fabricius (see Part I). Previously, Kim has described Jesus as “the hermeneutical criterion of all scripture” (Propositions on peace and war: a postscript Yet his arguments seem to go further and see the cross as the hermeneutical criterion for all that Jesus is, and so all that God is. A similar idea was hinted at by Ben Myers when, in his wonderful Theology for beginners series, he described Jesus’ resurrection in this way: “God took this dead man through death into new life, into the life of God’s future. Precisely as a dead man, he lived! Precisely as the Crucified One, he became the Risen One!” (Theology for beginners (7): Resurrection, my italics). What does this mean? Does it imply that the death of Jesus is the definitive moment in God such that anything that cannot be said of God at this moment cannot rightly be said at all?

The not-quite-pacifist position diverges at this point because of the conviction that the death of Jesus is not the final thing to say about God. The one who was crucified is now exalted as Lord and will return. To be sure, he still bears the marks of the nails in his hands, but these now show not only his surrender to death but his defeat of it. Now Jesus reigns, and he must do so “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24). If what we have to say about God is at odds with this Jesus, then, too, we may end up with a “decaf theology” (see Propositions on peace and war: a postscript). "As the cross is not the sum of how Jesus 'went about doing good,' so neither is the command 'follow me' exhaustively accounted for by the words: 'when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.'" (O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited, 11).
I’d like to thank Kim for this opportunity to enter into conversation with one whose knowledge and imagination far exceeds my own. I hope some of my thoughts have been half as interesting as his have been for me. Series: I; II; III.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XVI

Implications, or why matter matters
Going to heaven when you die is not the biblical Christian hope. Instead, in the light of Jesus' resurrection, Christians are to hope for the transforming presence of God that brings new life to the dead and an end to all that is wrong and warped in creation.

Having recently summarised the main points of this series, I wanted to suggest a few reasons why it is important. What difference does this make? To get us started, I'd like to suggest seven. I'd love to hear more.

1. Creation and redemption are not fundamentally opposed
The same God who made the world has acted in Christ and the Spirit to save it. The world was made through Christ and was redeemed through that same Christ (Colossians 1.15-20). We must reject any gnostic or Marcionite division between Creator and Redeemer. The church is not the opposite of the world; it is the imperfect foretaste of the world's true destiny.

2. God has not abandoned his good creation
If we await our redemption from the world, rather than the redemption of the world, then it would appear that God, having called his creation 'good, very good', has given up and is ready to consign it to the garbage. God's power and faithfulness are called into question by any escapist eschatology. However, the God with the power to call things which are not into existence is the same God who raises the dead (Rom 4.17).

3. God says 'yes' to life
His 'no' of judgement is only to be understood within an overarching 'yes' to Christ, to humanity, to his world, to life. God is unashamedly positive about all that is good in the world: 'yes' to love, to laughter, to sharing, to sex, to food, to fun, to music, to matter. It is because he loves the world that he will not put up with its present disfigurements.

4. What we do with our bodies and the planet matters
Not because we can create the kingdom of God or sculpt our resurrection bodies now, but because God cares for them. Bodies and the broader environment in which they find their place are good gifts, worth caring for. Just as our obedience will never be complete in this age, yet we keep thanking, trusting and loving God, so our care for creation is presently an imperfectible, yet unavoidable, responsibility and privilege. We must therefore also reject any dualism that opposes 'spiritual' with 'physical'. To be truly spiritual is to be enlivened, empowered, cleansed and directed by the Holy Spirit of life, who is the midwife our birth (Job 33.4) and our rebirth (Tit 3.5), and the midwife of the world's birth (Gen 1.2) and rebirth (Rom 8.22-23).

5. Humanity as humanity matters
When the Word took flesh, he came as one of us. He remains one of us. We are not saved from our humanity, but are made more fully human. We await resurrection as humans. Nothing that is truly human is to finally perish (though all must be transformed). This makes human endeavour and relationships noble, even while they remain tragically flawed. Christians remain humans first, giving us much still in common with our neighbours. 'Secular' work in God's good world is not to be despised or treated merely instrumentally. Neither is art, or education, or healthcare, or agriculture, or science, or industry, or government. There is much about these activities that will not endure, and much that requires reform; yet these tasks all participate as part of what it is to be a human creature.

6. Difference is not necessarily sin
The Neoplatonic vision of creation and redemption is one in which an original unity degenerates into plurality before returning back to the source, the One. Not only does the doctrine of the Trinity undermine such a way of thinking about the world, but the fact that we await the resurrection of ourselves and our world in all its/our wonderful diversity and beauty also involves the rejection of this common assumption. We do not need to all be the same.

7. Our knowledge of God is not otherworldly
However hidden, confused, partial and dim it might presently be, one day creation 'will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.' (Isa 11.9; cf. Hab 2.14). The fullness of God's deity dwells bodily in Christ (Col 2.9). The home of God is to be with humans (Rev 21.3). Having a body, using language, being situated in a specific cultural context, being gendered: none of these are barriers to the knowledge of God. While each has been problematised by sin in various ways, we must not confuse finitude with fallenness. To seek knowledge of God, one does not need to transcend creaturehood.
Aside: Maybe the prohibition against visual images under the old covenant was not because the God of Israel was simply an idea, or simply invisible, but to prevent the pre-emptive summons of his presence through a human re-presentation. God is not at our beck and call, but sovereignly presents himself in his own good time through his Word and Spirit - which blows where it will.

So much more could be said about each of these points, and perhaps there are some more series to come here. But for now, I will draw this series to a close. To be a friend of God is to be a friend of creation, of humanity, of life - the kind of friend that hates what is evil, clings to what is good, that is not overcome by evil, but overcomes evil with good (Rom 12.9, 21).
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for the first to link back to the post that pictured the same structure as above.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Must Christians be pacifists? II

A series by Andrew Errington
II: Violence and the judgment of God
The argument for Christian pacifism finds its basis in the nonviolence of God: “unless the opponents of pacifism can demonstrate a violent streak in Jesus himself… their case is like espresso without caffeine – it lacks the essential ingredient.” (Propositions on peace and war: a postscript)

But is there violence in Jesus? The suggestion seems repellent; yet we must remember that there are New Testament texts which seem to say exactly that. The Lord Jesus will be “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not obey the gospel…” (2 Thess 1:7-8). And the idea of the wrath of God is central to New Testament discussion of God’s future, providing the rationale for Christian non-resistance: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Rom 12:19).

But does this entail violence? The imagery in 2 Thessalonians is certainly powerful. Yet there are reasons to hesitate. As many have pointed out, when we look at the images of God’s judgment in the Apocalypse they are often ironic and self-defeating. The Lion of Judah goes Baa! The army of conquest is led by the Prince of martyrs! The rider on the white horse strikes with a sword, but it is a sword that comes (as a word) from his mouth! Will God’s vengeance be violent? Perhaps we are best to remain agnostic at this point. It is perilous to speak too concretely about realities that are more than a little beyond us.

Does this mean that a firm argument against pacifism is impossible? Not necessarily. Contrary to Kim’s assertion, those who argue against absolute pacifism do not need to demonstrate that there is violence in God, but only that the identity of God in the final judgment is not incompatible with some forms of human violence in the present. The not-quite-pacifist believes that the execution of judgments by force in this present age is a necessary reflection of God’s final judgment, albeit a reflection as in a glass darkly. The return of Christ may not involve violence per se; but it will involve the wrath of God; and this is the basis for the fearful task of provisionally and imperfectly executing judgments by force. This is the lot of the governing authority, who “does not bear the sword in vain,” but is “the minister of God to execute his [i.e. God’s] wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4). The ruler who thinks she can execute God’s wrath in this age without some kind of forceful punishment has, perhaps, too lofty a view of her capabilities.
Series: I; II; III. Ten points for guessing who is depicted in this relief.

The End of Suburbia II

Peak Oil: the problem
Last night I went to a screening of the Peak Oil documentary The End of Suburbia held by Barneys. If the calculations of many experts are right, somewhere in the next 5 to 10 years (or perhaps it is happening even now), the world will reach and pass maximum oil production.* The economic consequences of this could well be devastating, since increasing demand meeting dwindling supply means rapidly rising prices. This doesn't just mean it costs more and more to run your car (today's prices will be remembered as cheap), but it costs more and more to run everything.
*Two sobering points: the 'peak' of oil discovery came in the 1960s and every year since the early 80s the world has used more oil than it has discovered.

In particular, the documentary focussed on the Western world's short-sighted decision after WWII to invest gigantic amounts of wealth into the task of suburbanisation: the construction of a way of life built around the private automobile. Many aspects of this investment are now looking highly problematic.

But it's not just the suburban middle class who will feel the pinch. In fact, the entire global economy as we know it is based on the assumption of cheap access to energy. For example, most of our food is grown, processed, stored and transported using energy from oil, not to mention all the petrochemicals used in pesticides and fertilisers. And before we start talking about alternative sources of energy, it is worth noting that nothing that we now have, or will have in the next decade (new technologies take time to research and implement, even where a 'market adjustment' in the price of oil makes research increasingly attractive) comes close to the efficiency and ubiquity of oil. Blind faith in the market's ability to cope misses the huge amounts of energy required to keep the various 'stalls' of the market open.

So what are we to do?
This is the first in a series of four or five posts of my reflections upon both the film and the issues it raises. I realise there are many great sites out there, including many Christans writing about it (more links to come). However, I will seek to give a theological analysis of the problem and its possible 'solutions'. Ten points for the artist and title. Series so far: I; II; III, IV.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who am I?

I'm a scribbling, cigar-smoking, wine-drinking, Bible-reading band man. A show off who loves to paint pictures of what I can't see. A husband, father, friend of the poor and sometimes the rich. An activist travelling salesman of ideas. Chess player, part-time rock star, opera singer, in the loudest folk group in the world.
Ten points for guessing who said this in an interview in response to being asked 'who are you?'. Whether you love him or hate him, check this out.
UPDATE: Seems like he's got something new to add to his self-description. H/T Elwyn.

Must Christians be pacifists? I

A new series by Andrew Errington
I: The Shalomite position
In a number of recent posts (1, 2, 3) on Ben Myers’ superb Faith and Theology, Kim Fabricius has argued clearly and forcefully that Christians ought to be pacifists, or what he has recently called Shalomites. The reasoning for this position should be read in Kim’s original stimulating posts; but briefly, his argument runs along the following lines.

Christian ethics flow from our understanding of who God is; and we know who God is above all through the cross. There we see God not ruling with a rod of iron, but humbling himself unto death. Therefore, nonviolence is essential to Christian discipleship, because, “it is the very heart of our understanding of God.” (Stanley Hauerwas, quoted in Why I am a Shalomite). As Kim himself puts it: “You see I am a Shalomite – and I believe that at least all Christians and, in principle, all people should be Shalomites… because of something I know about Jesus’ (William Willimon) and because of something Jesus knows about God: namely, that God is a God of Shalom, that (to adapt what St John says about God and light and darkness) God is non-violent and in him there is no violence at all.” (Why I am a Shalomite).

Thus, “[T]he Christian pacifist argument turns on the nature of the triune God; and the normative criterion of the nature of the triune God is the Christ event… If there is violence in this God – in this Jesus – the case for pacifism falls.” (Propositions on peace and war: a postscript).

God cannot be other than who he is in Jesus Christ. Since there is no violence in Jesus, there is no violence in God. Old Testament references to a violent deity must therefore be viewed in a new light, and cannot be made to prop up an ethic which lacks the essential ingredient: a Christological basis. In the light of the nonviolence of God in Jesus, Christians are compelled to be nonviolent themselves.

But is it true to say that there is no violence in God? Does the pacifist position innevitably end up with a Jesus who dies but is not then exalted? This is where we are headed.
Andrew is an old uni friend of mine. He will continue this series over the coming days in between whatever else I manage to post while preparing for my final exam. As mentioned earlier, I remain fascinatedly undecided on these issues. Ten points for the city in which this statue can be found. Series: I; II; III.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I lately lost a preposition;
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair,
And angrily I cried, "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there."
Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor,
And yet I wondered, "What should he come
Up from out of in under there for?"
You may have seen this before, but I enjoyed it. Anyone know who wrote it?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

O'Donovan on the church's role in society

An effective church with an effective ministry, in holding out the word of life, than which there is no other human good within the world or outside it, will render assistance to the political functions in societry by forwarding the social good which they exist to defend. But that is to take the very longest view of the relationship. In holding out the word of life, an effective church with an effective ministry issues the call "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" And so in the short, the medium, and even the penultimate term the presence of the church in political society can be a disturbing factor, as those who first thought Christianity worth persecuting understood quite well. It presents a counter-political moment in social existence; it restrains the thirst for judgment; it points beyond the boundaries of political identity; it undermines received traditions of representation; it utters truths that question unchallenged public doctrines. It does all these things because it represents God's kingdom, before which the authorities and powers of this world must cast down their crowns, never to pick them up again.

- Oliver O'Donovan, Ways of Judgment, 292.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Beyond duty: the rewards of obedience

Is being good worth it?
I have recently had an experience that brought home to me very powerfully one of the main points of a college course I took last year in ethics. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of thinking about ethics: duty ethics and reward ethics (technically, these are called deontological ethics and teleological ethics).* Duty ethics says "I do it because it's right." Reward ethics says "I do it because I will be rewarded." Christians often think that the former is a better way of thinking than the latter. However, I want to suggest that while duty ethics can be useful when you are in a tight spot and don't have time to think (e.g. in the pressure of the moment, you remember that it is wrong to lie and so you tell the truth, even though you didn't have time to think about the consequences), that Christian ethics is actually closer to reward ethics.
*I realise that some thinkers distinguish between teleogical ethics and consequentialism and that what I have called reward ethics is closer to the latter. I'm going to skate right over that for now.

If God made the world, and made the world good, and if sin has not detroyed that goodness, though it might have scrambled it and hidden it somewhat, then obeying God is not simply a matter of "God said it, I believe it". It will also work. The 'reward' of obedience is to not be fighting against the good world, but 'going with the flow'. There is no need to justify obedience, you are simply lining up with reality, doing what is in one sense 'easiest' and 'normal'. Of course, our grasp on these concepts can be more than a little shaky at times because of the confusion that sin brings. Nonetheless, to obey is to work with the grain of the universe, not against it. Therefore, I don't simply obey because it is right (though that is also true), but because it is good, very good.

This may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but the important thing is to grasp the nature of the rewards I'm talking about. In the experience I mentioned earlier, a friend was struggling with two problems. The first was how to deal with someone who had repeatedly lied to him. The second was whether (in an unrelated context) to be honest. I tried to highlight the connections between these two situations. My friend knew what the right thing to do was, but knew that honesty would be very costly financially and possibly relationally (at least in the short term).

As I spoke to him, it came home powerfully to me that one of the blessings you get from being honest is being the kind of person who can tell the truth. A reward of faithfulness is becoming a trustworthy person. These are great blessings, rich rewards. No amount of money can buy them.
Ten points for naming the artist (correctly).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


This is the most linked video today. And I can see why. Check it out.

Changing the wind: elections and social change

Why elections don't really matter

In our idolization of modern secular democracy we have imagined that, provided our leaders attain power by a popular vote, that’s all that matters, and that the only possible critique is to vote them out again next time round. The early Christians, and their Jewish contemporaries, weren’t particularly concerned with how people in power came to be in power; they were extremely concerned with speaking the truth to power, with calling the principalities and powers to account and reminding them that they hold power as a trust from the God who made the world and before whom they must stand to explain themselves.

-N. T. Wright, Where is God in 'the War on Terror'? H/T Hebel.

Leading up to the recent US mid-term elections, I noticed a number of insightful posts. This, combined with continuing to read Oliver O'Donovan has led me to realise that elections are quite peripheral to a well-functioning society. Democracy is a procedural system to ensure some measure of respresentation (which for O'Donovan has more to do with the populus seeing themselves in their leader than any idea of congruent proportions of genders, races, backgrounds, religions, etc), but the real heart of our political system ought to be free and open parliamentary debate, informed by a broader public debate, over the imperfectible task of pursuing the common good. Elections can actually impede this through emphasising partisanship at the expense of genuine inquiry into the common good.

Jim Wallis makes a similar point with less nuance (but more memorably) with his image of 'changing the wind' - elections simply exchange one set of politicians waving their fingers around in the air to see which way the wind is blowing for another. Changing the politicians doesn't make much difference. The point is to change the wind.

Actually, now I think of it, I've realised the fairly obvious point that Wallis and O'Donovan are both limiting the importance of elections but for quite different reasons. For Wallis, it's a pragmatic one: popular opinion is more important than the (nearly always derivative) opinions of politicians. This is a cynical admission that few politicians are willing to step out in front of the electorate and lead. For O'Donovan, it's because the pursuit of the common good is more important than the process used to select leaders to take us there. Less important than who is how they interact with each other and their constituents. O'Donovan therefore claims that it's not the ballot box that represents a free society, but parliamentary debate.
Ten points for naming specifically where I was standing to take this photo ('London' is not good enough - and is technically incorrect since this is part of the city of Westminster anyway).

Monday, November 13, 2006

The widow's mite (Mark 12.41-44)

An uncomfortable passage

And Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury and watched the people throwing money into the treasury. Many rich people threw in large sums. And a poor widow came and threw in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has thrown in more than all those who are throwing into the treasury. For they all threw in of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has thrown in everything she had, her entire life." (Mark 12.41-44)
How many times have you heard a sermon extolling generosity based on this passage? If this poor little widow could give her little bit, though it cost her so much, how can we who are so wealthy not be giving more?

Now generosity is crucial and even giving till it hurts can be commendable (2 Cor 8.1-5), but I'm not convinced that this has very much to do with this passage. In fact, I wonder whether it mightn't be to turn the passage almost on its head!

The context of the passage is a section of Mark that begins with Jesus' triumphant arrival in Jerusalem in chapter 11 and which leads into his trial, passion and death. One of the major themes of this section, culminating in the temple veil being torn in two (Mark 15.38), is of a confrontation between Jesus and the Temple in Jerusalem. In particular, chapters 11 and 12 are filled with direct and indirect conflict. Jesus arrives with a bang, but having got to the temple, where we might expect fireworks, he almost dismisses it and goes home (11.1-11). The cursing of the fig tree (11.12-14, 20-24) is an image of the fruitless Temple, facing its own destruction, as is clear from the incident sandwiched in the middle: Jesus' dramatic actions in the Temple which disrupted the regular sacrifice (11.15-19). I suspect that this is more an enacted parable of destruction than a 'cleansing', but that is a discussion for another day. The next day, Jesus is again in the Temple, and there is a showdown with the Temple authorities ('the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders') over the source of his authority (11.27-33). Having evaded their question with one of his own, he then goes on the offensive, telling a biting parable about some tenants, which they correctly understand is about, and against, them (12.1-12). Their counteroffensive is a cunning trap of a question about taxes, which Jesus again uses to turn the tables on them (12.13-17). That Jesus asks them for a coin shows that they carry and use the idolatrous coins that bear the 'image' of a hated pagan deity (the emperor). The puny little 'image' of the emperor, the emperor can keep; but the image of God is to be given to God. The next round comes from the Sadducees and again Jesus emerges victorious while they are shown to be 'quite wrong' (12.18-27). After a brief rapprochement with one scribe, who is starting to get it (12.28-34), Jesus pushes forward the heart of his claim about the superiority of the messiah with a riddle from Psalm 110 (12.35-37). Throughout Mark 11 and 12, Jesus has been at the throat of the temple, revealing the corruption, impending judgment and subsequent obsolescence of the temple regime.

And so we come to our passage: not just Mark 12.41-44, but 12.38-44 since verses 38-40 are crucial for understanding the widow:
And in his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
When Jesus immediately then goes to watch what happens at the temple treasury (v.41), we have been prepared to see this for what it is: an illustration of how the scribes who run the temple are devouring the house of a widow, all she had to live on, indeed literally, 'her entire life'. Whether or not this was a 'freewill' offering or a compulsory payment, this temple system has eaten another widow. She has not just given until it hurts, but the temple has taken away her very life. There is no criticism of the widow, but neither is there simple commendation of her as an example of generosity. She is an innocent bystander, a casualty of the temple, pointlessly sacrificed by the very scribes who will soon go on to devour Jesus' life too.

Is it any wonder that having seen this heartwrenching scene of oppression, Jesus immediately lauches into his most furious and sustained attack on the temple, openly predicting its very destruction:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" 2And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Benjamin on progress

"A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."
- Walter Benjamin, 'Theses on the philosophy of history' in Illuminations.
Image: Klee's Angelus Novus.

Friday, November 10, 2006

End of week links again

If you're a nerdy biblical studies type, then this has to be one of the funniest exchanges I've seen in a while. Read all the comments.

After a round of bookish theological influences (started by Ben here; mine; links to others), and then some novels, Aaron raised the bar, posting on his top 20 theological experiences. Ben followed suit, as did Frank.

Aaron also offers some Kids books for Christmas. Don't forget Billy the Punk - thoroughly recommended and a classic from 1996.

Great post from Ben Witherington on the recent election and Christian political responsibilities. I might get round to posting on this myself soon.

Free things in Sydney
The Other Inconvenient Truth - free screening at Barneys on Monday week (20th Nov; 7 for 7.30 screening). See also here. St Barnabas Church Offices (4/173-179 Broadway; enter from Mountain Street) Bring your own popcorn/snacks. All welcome.

Another great free activity, Sculpture by the Sea is always fun.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Where do all the teaspoons go?

Check it out: a longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute. Australian science at its best. I think I've just been converted to 'counterphenomenological resistentialism'.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XV

Series summary
[Photo by Adrian Smith]
This series began by raising the question: "what does heaven have to do with the Christian hope?" Although many Christians think of going to heaven when you die, I suggested this is to significantly misunderstand the scriptural witness. 'Heaven' most frequently simply means that part of God's creation located physically above us; this is then often extended to refer symbolically to the location of God, and then to be a kind of reverential shorthand for 'God'. In this last sense, 'heaven' (i.e. God) is the origin or agent of our hope, but 'heaven' (as other or extra-worldly location) is not our destination. This, I suggested, might be what Paul meant when he called Christians citizens of heaven. The final chapters of the Bible picture heaven coming to earth, that is, God coming to live with us, rather than vice versa. For this to happen, the entire created order needs some drastic renovation. In particular, our physical bodies will be raised from the dead and transformed. This image (resurrection) - while not the only one - is, I think, the most important because this is what happened to Jesus. By it, we can understand 'new heavens and new earth' as new in quality, not in number. This means that we are left eagerly waiting for this future, groaning for and with a world in which everything falls apart. We are aliens in such a world, not because we belong elsewhere, but because we belong to its future. In that future, perhaps it will be through and in a raised body/renewed creation that we will see God, as Augustine once suggested.

What does this matter? What difference does it make? Why should we care? There is still more to come...
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for the first to link to the other post on this blog with a photo by the same artist as this one.