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Is it anything more than a children’s fairytale?

I heard several comments over recent weeks that “The world has gone mad.” Perhaps that raises the question of what anchorage points we have for our life, and for our public policy. As we commence our Advent journey for 2017, the beginning of a new year, and a journey toward reengaging a world-defining event, the interaction of that story with our values again comes into question. An illustration of this tension is the apparent support of the evangelical Christian vote in the US for the climate-denying Trump when the day after the Trump victory an Interfaith Statement was released in Marrakech, Morocco, that presented a very different perspective. In Australia there exists a dominance of climate-denying Catholics in government, in opposition to the moral signposts set out in Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ and a number of other faith-based publications. While we must all form our own conclusions on practical issues faith can never be closeted away as a purely private affair. Faith has an inescapable public dimension and impacts on the ethics underlying the positions we assume every day, and must be lived out in dialogue with the well-reasoned, evidence-based, morally congruent positions of leaders in our faith traditions. The Interfaith Statement was endorsed by such prominent religious leaders as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and a diverse range of others. Australian endorsements include the Grand Mufti and heads of peak Buddhist, Hindu, Uniting Church and Lutheran bodies. The same applies on issues such as policies regarding asylum seekers, same-gender marriage, and many other issues. We are gathering around a story. But it not an entertaining fairytale for children. It is a profound story that should be shaping our life and public policy.

(Rev) Stan

 

Lessons from life

Perhaps it’s a metaphor of my life in ministry. Saturday morning our washing machine failed. The solution seemed simple. Drain the machine, clean out the filters, and hey presto, all fixed. Except it wasn’t. It filled with the water for the pre-wash, but then wouldn’t go on and fill for the main wash. I discovered the inlet valve/solenoids was faulty. That was replaced Monday morning. Restarted the machine and it filled with the pre-wash, and proceeded to fill for the main wash. Woohoo! I had the text message to Sue all completed checking that she appreciated how brilliant her husband was … when the machine sent out another error message. It hadn’t stopped filling until it was overfilled. So back to investigation. I discover that the pressure switch is also faulty. So I’m waiting for a replacement part. I have no guarantee that its not the control board that has sent a spike through everything and itself needs replacing, which would mean a new machine given the age of this one. But meanwhile we have a disruption in our family that we need to work around for a time, and ultimately resolve. Knowing how to follow through in the search for the cause of presenting symptoms is a day to day part of the pastoral ministry. Sometimes I am skilled to address what is uncovered. Sometimes its important to refer on to specialists and step back. We ask the same of our Pastoral Partners. Our pastoral support regime in the church is multi layered. We have varying levels and areas of skills and are required to respect those limitations and work as a team across the fabric of the church community. Together we create a culture of mutual care and support that is unique in our increasingly individualised world. The unique quality of the early church, that the community around them saw and remarked upon, was summed up in the cry “See how they love each other!” We can disagree on many things. We can try and fail on many initiatives. But in the words of the apostle Paul, “If we have not love, we are nothing.” That is our ultimate gift to our community.

(Rev) Stan

A personal response

I tried hard to not write about what happened in the US this week. I concluded that would just be avoidance. Eight years ago a man of mixed race who’d lived all around the world and stood as testament to a buoyant multicultural society said, as he accepted the vote of the people,

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Eight years later, an aging white male, declared bankrupt several times, who boasts of not paying taxes because his company lost $1b in a single year, who has no interest in world affairs, and has abused just about every minority in the land, inherits that office. It is galling to this Christian leader that many so-called Christian leaders championed a man who blasphemously abused just about every category of people Jesus spent his life lifting up and offering hope to. For those minorities who dared to dream eight years earlier sustaining the dream will be a challenge. As we enter the season of Advent in just a couple of weeks time we will hear again its radically ridiculous message of hope in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We may find our own propensity to hold strong to the vision challenged. Last Sunday’s words, “Take courage. Do not fear. Hold strong to the vision,” have resounded even more strongly in my ears this week. Grouch Marx might have been right when he said: “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” J But I suspect Stanley Hauerwas (in this week’s Quote of the day) was closer to the mark.

(Rev) Stan

 

The pit-fire effect of life

Sitting on the window ledge of my office is a little bowl I bought many years ago from an artist/potter in my first placement. She used an unusual method of pit-firing her pots. She dug a great pit in the ground, loaded the pots among the sticks of wood, and sprinkled oxidants randomly throughout the stacking. She would then cover it over and set it alight. It would burn away for ages, and the flames and smoke would swirl randomly through the stack producing wonderful effects. It’s a method that produces very uncontrolled and un-guaranteed results. The pot I have is flawed. Its probably why I thought I could afford it. But in another way every pot that emerges from that pit is at best irregular, and could be said to be flawed. But that is the beauty of the process. And I love my pot. I also love that pot because it reminds me of a friendship that was severed by relocation, and then by death, many years ago. That flawed pot reminds me of a flawed but beautiful and creative person, of a flawed but beautiful friendship. I have found myself in several conversations over recent weeks with people who have been remembering (or anticipating) the  loss of flawed people from their lives after significantly long marriages. For example, last night I had a long phone chat with a friend and colleague from many years ago who recently lost his wife of 62+ years. Perhaps the grief has become but one additional swirl of colour on the pot, not necessarily flawed, but certainly irregular and absolutely uncontrolled. And as much as might prefer not to have that particular influence in our pit-fire of life these are the very things that add the character and the colour and the beauty to who we are constantly becoming.

(Rev) Stan

 

Filling the cracks

I am presently working on a little project to create an entrance hall table from a beautiful slab of redgum with its raw edge. But there are also cracks in the piece of timber that require filling with epoxy resin, that both fills the crack (or knot hole) and restores structural strength to the timber. This is a new technique for this amateur woodworker. I researched the technique until confident of what I needed to do. I carefully taped up possible escape routes through the bottom or sides of the slab. I mixed the resin, added the pigment, and began pouring away. It was an exciting and beautiful experience to watch this resin slowly flow on down through the cracks into the timber and slowly fill. I watched as the resin permeated through what seemed to be hairline cracks. My research told me it would take about 20 minutes, to be sure that the cracks were filled, topping up until the cracks stopped receiving it. Well … an hour later I was still topping up some of these spaces. Some might need a second application to finish them off. But I found it fascinating how one crack that I wasn’t even sure I needed to fill just kept receiving more and more resin. It just seemed to keep eating up resin. I even looked underneath the slab to make sure there wasn’t a crack right through that I had not noticed and taped up. But no. Its just a case that inside the slab, beneath the surface, there is obviously a brokenness and emptiness that I was not cognizant of that needed filling and strengthening. And I realised that I was experiencing a metaphor of many people’s lives. We so often only see the surface. There may be small cracks or blemishes. They don’t seem much. We don’t think they need our attention. But sometimes there is something deep within that is broken and empty, and needs the resin of God’s love, expressed through God’s people, to pour itself into that fissure and bring new strength. Indeed cracks filled this way present a wonderful authenticity and character to a piece of timber. I think it does the same to people’s lives.

(Rev) Stan