I was delighted to discover that an Australian TV show ran a wee story this week on Changi artist Des Bettany. Des’ work – which his son Keith, in an incredible labour of love, has made available on a beautiful website, The Changi POW Artwork of Des Bettany – bears witness to the enduring nature of hope and the healing power of art, and celebrates the joy which is shot through creation even under travail and which dares to announce that something more permanent than violence and the fears which give rise to such shall have the last laugh. The story that tells of the discovery of Des’ ‘book’ also speaks – of hope’s surprises.
In recent days, Professor Paul Fiddes has been in New Zealand where he has taught a course on the Trinity, and made three outstanding public presentations. I promised to make the latter available, so here they are, and that with apologies for the poor quality of the recordings:
- ‘Observation and Participation: Wisdom, the World and the Triune God’. A paper delivered at the Doing Theology in Light of the Trinity conference, held at Laidlaw College, Auckland, 21 August 2014. (pdf)
- ‘Metaphor and Mystery: Biblical Wisdom in a Late-Modern World’. A public lecture given at the University of Otago, Dunedin, 26 August 2014. (pdf)
- ‘God and Story in the Church and in Doctrine: the relationship between systematic theology and “everyday” theology’. A seminar given at the Knox Centre for Ministry & Leadership, Dunedin, 27 August 2014. (pdf)
In my perpetual hunt for liturgical resources that are theologically judicious (which means, among other things, being grounded enough in the earth as it is so as not to be spouting liturgical bullshit) – something which is not as easy a task as one might hope – I happened across this ‘Ordination Liturgy’ from the Methodist Church of Singapore:
We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.
We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.
We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.
We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.
We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.
We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Well put, Methodists!
Last night, the Centre for Theology and Public Issues and the Otago University Students’ Association Queer Support co-hosted a public event on how churches are responding to the Marriage Amendment Act that passed through the New Zealand parliament last year. A wide number of people were invited to speak at the event, five of whom said ‘Yes’. These were Kelvin Wright (Anglican Bishop of Dunedin), Greg Hughson (Methodist Minister and Otago University Chaplain), Mark Chamberlain (Roman Catholic Priest at the Church of the Holy Name and Otago University Chaplain), Bruce Hamill (Minister at Coastal Unity Presbyterian Church and Convenor of the Doctrine Core Group for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand), and Neill Ballantyne (Queer Support Officer, OUSA).
Each were invited to respond to the following three questions:
Question 1: In general Christian Churches in New Zealand were opposed to the amending of the Marriage Act to include couples of the same gender. This passed on the 17th of April 2013. This amendment allowed for ministers to refuse to marry a couple for matters of conscience. In your experience how are the churches responding to this change and in your opinion how do you think they should respond?
Question 2: It has been said that there is a sense of inevitability that the church will become more inclusive in its attitudes towards LGBT people and sexual morality. How would you respond to this claim?
Question 3: What does the marriage equality process show about the relationship between church and society in New Zealand on issues of morality. Are the churches still able to give moral leadership to wider society or is wider society giving leadership to the church?
Kelvin did well to highlight the nature of Anglicanism as broad and determined to hold together, through its polity and eucharistic centre, irreconcilable positions on all manner of subjects, a characteristic for which it remains deeply indebted to Queen Elizabeth I. Greg documented something of the long and painful journey that New Zealand Methodists have travelled on their road to, in 2003, signing a Memorandum of Understanding which would allow diversity of opinion on the matter of marriage of LGBT persons and which made it possible for people to stand together with their differences and ‘with integrity’. Mark draw attention to the nature of all human sexuality and relationships as ‘gift’, stressed that the church must walk a difficult path of being deeply immersed in the culture while not being held captive to public opinion and to take its marching orders from the Gospel as interpreted through, and in continuity with, Scripture and the tradition. He could not, therefore, envisage a time when Rome might change its line on marriage. He did not, as far as I can remember, use the language of ‘sacrament’, although such was clearly informing his definition of marriage. Neill’s overall point last night was a good one – that the inclusive nature of the kingdom (or ‘queendom’) of God is radically at odds with the expressions of pharisaism and gate-keeperism that too often characterises those communities called to bear witness to that kingdom – but he might have found a more gracious and considerate way to make it.
The stand out response, in my view, was that by Bruce (who managed to cram a two-hour lecture into about 10 minutes!). Below is a transcript of his response:
Thanks for the privilege of being part of this forum and also for the commitment of CTPI to let theology out of the closet (so to speak) on this issue.
Let me speak about what I know a little about – the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand – my denomination. Our response as a denomination was to reaffirm a traditional definition of marriage in stark contrast to the Act. This decision came after many years of bitter conflict in our General Assemblies, first over homosexuality and leadership and more recently over same-sex marriage. At this point the conservative view is in the ascendancy and consistently gets over 60% of the vote on these matters. It looks as if this next Assembly will be no exception and I suspect there will be a move to ensure that those minister’s whose conscience calls them to reject the national church position will no longer have the possibility of ‘conscientious objection’ on this matter.
I know that the denominational response is what the ‘public’ sees. However, in my view the denominational response is unlikely to be the best response. Let me explain. In my view, churches need to respond with discernment in community – and denominational bodies are not really communities (certainly not primary communities) let alone communities of discernment. Even the way most local Presbyterian congregations are structures means that thy usually don’t function well in this way.
Before I say something about what I think the Church should have done (and why), a few comments on Question 3.
I think the response of the church to date shows at least two things about the relationship between church and society.
- It shows that the wider society has been profoundly influenced by Jesus Christ and his crucifixion, and his decision to live in solidarity, without violence, with those who were the victims of society. We cannot underestimate the influence of this story on our culture in the West.
- It also shows a willingness on the part of the church not to take the decisions of the wider society as morally authoritative. Both of these things I take to be good things.
As for moral leadership, I think this is a loaded and not particularly helpful question. You could say that both Church and Society are giving moral leadership but with a different set of morals, or in different directions. The question assumes that there are universal moral principles at stake here that all parties agree on and then someone just needs to act on or make statements on in order to give leadership. If there is no such thing then it’s not a question of who’s leading who but of who’s leading in the right direction. In other words the question of who’s leading who can only be answered in the context of a wider narrative of what the good life is. For Christians this is really about what it means to live in conformity to and communion with Christ and thus ‘with the grain of the universe’.
The irony is that, in my view, the wider society, with its willingness to make space for minority groups, seems to be more closely conformed to Christ on this matter than those who claim to be Christian.
To return to Question 1: In my view what the PCANZ should have done is not simply to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage but should have been prompted to rethink the limits and nature of our understanding of marriage. Actually in 2012 when the PCANZ did reaffirm a traditional definition there was also a motion put to the Assembly that the Doctrine Core Group (which I convene) produce a discussion paper on the theology of marriage. The motion was rejected. It was only in February of this year that the Council of Assembly did call for a discussion document, which we have since produced.
What I want to do today is offer four reasons, from within the tradition itself, in support of a rethink.
- As a protest wing of the catholic church, we of the reformed tradition have a little motto which goes ‘the reformed church is constantly being reformed’ (we like to say it in Latin so no one understands it). I think the point is a simple one. The institutions within which the people of God live their lives are not platonic forms. There is constant pressure from the triune God for their reform. The working out of the gospel means that the church is always learning how to be the church. Reform of institutions is something we are called to do on good authority. Both Jesus and the Apostles were right into it. Think of Israel’s great institutions – the Temple, the Purity Codes and the Sabbath – none of which came of unscathed with their encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Not to mention the way Jesus profoundly challenged the centrality of ‘Family’. I often wonder whether Jesus’ motto ‘the Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath’ might well apply to marriage. Think of Peter’s vision of unclean creatures and the way it paved the way for a rethink of ethnic identity. Look at Paul’s deconstruction of the role of the Torah (Law) in the light of Jesus’ coming. Should we exempt marriage from such reforming processes? It seems to me that the onus is clearly on the traditionalists to come up with a reason for why the incarnation makes no real difference to how we think about marriage.
- Secondly, in Christian ethics, nature and the structures of creation play a subordinate role to the ‘new creation’ in Christ (see, e.g. Gal 3.28). This is to say that Christians understand human life and action in the light of its ‘end’ (eschatologically). For us the fulfilment of creation’s purposes, the ‘kingdom of God’, has arrived in the middle of time interrupting all our practices and redirecting them towards a new form of life. The good life is an embodiment of the future made possible now. In Paul we see this as he elaborates on the close connection between the church’s relationship to Christ (which he calls ‘a profound mystery’) and the marriage relationship. A similar analogy is drawn in Hosea. And both, as Rowan Williams observes in his wonderful essay ‘The Body’s Grace’, remind us that ‘there is a good deal [in the Bible] to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologically significant it may be.’ When the Bible talks of marriage it has little interest in the pragmatics of human reproduction. And so the case can be made that whatever biological assumptions have been made up until quite recently in discussion of marriage, these things don’t really get to the point of marriage as the church is learning to practice it in the light of the eschaton.
- Having said that, the ‘kingdom of God’ arises in the context of an old creation and is not divorced from biology and history. An account of marriage must in turn take into account any new understanding of creation and of human biology and psychology (and so on). Scientific disciplines help us at precisely this point. In the ancient world of the biblical writers there was little understanding that the dynamic processes of human desire might be constrained and structured according a same-sex orientation as well as a heterosexual one. This is a significant mandate for reconsidering the modes of marital expression that the kingdom of God might take among the people of God. So (1) the call to reform (2) the priority of eschatology (3) the biological context, and finally what I want to call …
- Marriage as sanctification: The biological context of the Christian life suggests to us that there are some partners, for some of us, who are apposite without being opposite. It may be that this situation ought not to bar same sex couples from marriage precisely because of the significance role that marriage can play in Christian discipleship. If indeed the bodily relatedness, the one-fleshness of marriage is a kind of icon of the trinity (the relatedness of God) and if indeed it reflects something of the mystery of Christ and his body, if indeed it is a discipline of learning to love our nearest neighbour as our self, if in short it is really about sanctification, then the conservative elements in the church may be effectively seeking (in the words of Eugene Rogers) to ‘deprive same-sex couples not so much of satisfaction as of sanctification.’ (A lot more needs to be said here of course). Because bodies matter in salvation. Because we are being saved as embodied creatures in all the particularity of our limitation, then we should seriously consider revising the limits of our doctrine of marriage. To quote Eugene Rogers again ‘no conservative I know has seriously argued that same-sex couples needs sanctification any less than opposite-sex couples’.
For these four reasons I say, it’s time for a rethink.
In conclusion (and in response to Q. 2): Is a more inclusive church inevitable? There is no inevitability this side of the eschaton. However, if we don’t define ‘church’ according to the particular institutions that claim that title, I remain hopeful (confident even) that God will raise up communities who will find ways of including LGBT people in the way of Jesus Christ.
of crippled abandonment,
of words ever unmatched by action,
of ideas ever unmatched by actuality.
of return threatens
to be marred by
of demons unconfronted;
but fed by
© Jason Goroncy
7 July 2014
Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming is a wonderfully-creative, beautifully-written, and seriously-provocative read. An entanglement of biblical studies, poetry, and feminist and process theologies, Keller offers a profound commentary on a most neglected Hebrew text, Genesis 1.2: ‘… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep …’.
The book represents Keller’s effort to take seriously Genesis’s claim that creation is not creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) but creatio ex profundis (creation out of the deep waters, creation as the germinating abyss). She sees this in stark contrast to the tendency in western theology to emphasise the creative and omnipotent Word which is, in a sense, spoken against creation with a view to taming and ordering its chaos. She writes:
Christianity established as unquestionable the truth that everything is created not from some formless and bottomless something but from nothing: an omnipotent God could have created the world only ex nihilo. This dogma of origin has exercised immense productive force. It became common sense. Gradually it took modern and then secular form, generating every kind of western originality, every logos creating the new as if from nothing, cutting violently, ecstatically free of the abysms of the past. But Christian theology … created this ex nihilo at the cost of its own depth. It systematically and symbolically sought to erase the chaos of creation. Such a maneuver … was always doomed to a vicious circle: the nothingness invariably returns with the face of the feared chaos – to be nihilated all the more violently.
Our tradition, she says, has leaped from Genesis 1.1 to 1.3, from the beginning with God to the divine speech, ‘Let there be light’. In this view, God does not work with the ‘formless void and darkness’ but, in a sense, against it. But wedged between these two verses, she reminds us, is ‘a churning, complicating darkness’ which ‘refuses to disappear’. She writes:
It refuses to appear as nothing, as vacuum, as mere absence highlighting the Presence of the Creator, as nonentity limning all the created entities. It gapes open in the text: ‘and the earth was tohu vabohu, and darkness was upon the face of tehom and the ruach elohim was vibrating upon the face of the mayim’ …
To make her case, she engages constructively with the work of Augustine, Barth, Deleuze, Derrida, Whitehead, and others. My favourite chapter was on Melville’s Moby-Dick, ‘“Leviathanic revelations”: Melville’s hermenautical journey’, wherein she suggests that ‘the infinity of a chaosmic hermeneutic signals … not a dearth but an excess of meaning, a meaning-fullness or meaning-flux released by the refusal of hard lines and clear boundaries’. Religion which tries to protect us from the risk of ‘being eternally stove and sunk by [the great Leviathan]’ (Melville) has, Keller avers, ‘offered us cartoons instead: a God-thing, an evil thing, and a creation full of things, surrounded by nothing’. ‘When religion pretends to “systematized exhibition,” it removes us both from the streets and from the deep’.
One real achievement of Keller’s book is how effectively it reminds us that creation is not a beast to be tamed, but a deep mystery – a mystery that we experience the echo of in our own times of chaos and deepest prayer, and over which the ‘wind from God’, the ruach elohim, ‘vibrates’. We are, in our most primordial reality, vulnerable creatures of this earth in which the ‘formless void and darkness’ from time to time reasserts itself. Where Keller’s work is less satisfactory, however, and that characteristically so for a process theologian, is in the absence of any serious christology – the journey which the kenotic God undertakes into and with creation’s dark and formless depths. Put otherwise, while Keller certainly plumbs the subterranean depths of creation, and that with some existential bite, she stops short of going where God in Christ goes, and so where a fully Christian account of creation bids theologians go.
Reading Keller’s book reminded me of Arvo Pärt’s De profundis, and led me to reflect more deeply on three texts from the Hebrew Bible (Pss 47.2; 139.5–12; Gen 15.12–13), and two verses from the Second Testament (Mark 15.33–34). Perhaps the true test of any book, however, is whether or not it lures one to prayer. Keller’s did that for me:
O God, who created the heavens and the earth, for whom nothing that is is apart from you, and who mends all the tears in the canvas of creation, we bless you.
We thank you for the promise that nothing in all creation can keep us from your love, even while we confess that that love is so often a stranger to us and that our lives are more often characterised by anxiety than by the courage to enter the deep caverns of creation and of your love’s mysterious shadows.
We mostly live in the shallows, and for that we are relieved the burden of constant darkness – our greatest fear that the sense that our very being is under threat. And sometimes we find ourselves in water too deep, where your presence is marked by an absence, and our presence is marked by our own nightmares, the storehouses of forgotten memories and open wounds that recoil at your gracious promise of healing and redemption. Thank you that even the darkness is not dark to you.
Give us a candle of your Spirit, O God of the depths, as we encounter and are encountered by the deeps of creation’s being, that these might be for us the spring of new life, and that our service in your name might bear witness to the profound depths that you have traversed and continue to transverse in Jesus Christ. Amen.
While the Australian Human Rights Commission conducts its own inquiry into children in detention, and while Scott Morrison (and Tony’s ‘gift to our nation’) stays on his own delusional course, The Guardian has published this piece based on an interview with the courageous Dr Peter Young:
Read the full article here.
Carlton Johnstone, Embedded Faith: the faith journeys of young adults within church communities (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013). ISBN: 9871625641236; 213pp.
A guest review by Geoff New
I have been aware of Carlton Johnstone’s work for some time. The thought of reading his book was akin to the thought of going to the dentist; I probably need to but I’m scared of the pain that will no doubt result. The anticipated pain of reading this book was centred on the anxiety I held about the young adults in my congregation. Why? I’m jealous for the young adults in my congregation because I have pastored them since they were in primary school. The prospect of reading this work was like hearing what your children have been up to from other ‘concerned parents’. Denial was a tantalising option. Nevertheless, I decided I needed a check-up so I read the book. Spoiler alert: insofar as the emotional effect upon me as a pastor, it was exactly as a dental assistant once said to me, ‘Today dentistry is a painless exercise’. Surprisingly!
Allow me to begin with a generalisation. For a busy minister who will be choosy about what they read and for how long, Embedded Faith is not an easy read. It is very academic in style and its main discipline is sociological rather than theological. If you are intending to buy this book, it’s important to know that. Also, this is not a how-to book; it is a what’s-happening-and-why book. As a reader, you will find a helpful map of what lies ahead in the Introduction (pp. xvi–xvii). Orientate yourself with this and then begin reading with your own people in mind.
Allow me to continue with what might appear as a painfully obvious point. Different chapters and sections will resonate and challenge leaders depending on the nature of their context and the length of time they have been in such a place. For me, I was intrigued with the chapters entitled ‘Worship and Modes of Engagement’, and ‘Preaching and Interpretative Communities’. What struck me about the findings articulated in these chapters was that with good authentic relationships with young adults, anxious leaders do not have a lot to be anxious about. Urban myths about what younger generations are after are debunked by the stories, experiences, and aspirations shared in these pages. Yes, there is work to be done but there is less of a them-and-us dynamic going on than is often claimed. This book, to a significant degree, is actually a tribute to the spirituality and conscientiousness of young adults that God has graced the church with.
The book reaches a conclusion where Carlton coins the phrase ‘two-timing’ to describe the spiritual practice of young adults attending two churches. At risk of over-simplifying this conclusion, a main feature is that it takes more than one church for the participants described in this book to enjoy spiritual nourishment. Outrageous? Well, in reading that section my mind went to Revelation 1–3 when the ascended and glorified Christ appeared to the apostle John on the island of Patmos. He then addressed the seven churches of Asia Minor at that time. His opening comment to each of the churches featured one or more aspect of the original description of Christ in Revelation 1.12–16; but no church had the entire vision presented. In other words, it took all seven churches to present the full vision of Christ. Maybe that’s where this research is heading? By the book’s end I was wishing for more application and reflection in terms of ‘what-now?’ It is there, but it is all too brief and general.
In my view, this work calls forth a commitment to a particular kind of open-hearted relationship with young adults. As mentioned earlier, it is not an easy read due to its academic style and referencing; but it is an empowering voice for young adults and encouraging for over-anxious pastors who feel like they are in the dentist chair.
Ed. In the spirit of both full disclosure and sheer delight, Carlton is one of my students. This means, among other things, that I am particularly happy to give his book a wee plug here at PCaL. – JG.
Michael Leunig has produced two cartoons (and possibly more) this year ‘named’ Earth. Here they are:
The Age, 4 April 2014
[Speaking of 'sorrow', reading Sarah Whyte's piece today had me in tears for hours.]
The Age, 30 July 2014
And his offering in today’s Sydney Morning Herald/The Age sustains and focuses the same theme:
This morning, two of my wee sprogs – Samuel (3) and Ambrie (2) – were keen to play on ‘my’ tablet. This is not unusual. They were especially keen to do some drawing. While they drew, I told them about the great Moby Dick. They thought that it was a ‘very funny story’ (clearly I have some work to do there!) and then they drew this delightful picture together:
I reckon that they got the proportion between The Whale and the Pequod about right.
Then Samuel, who is mildly obsessed with aeroplanes, thought that he would draw the flight paths for Air New Zealand’s domestic flights. He was certainly right about AirNZ cutting back on those flights to/from Dunedin:
Signed: A very proud dad
It is testimony to God’s persevering love that God has blessed the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand with some wonderfully-talented young people. And with the conviction that God’s blessings are given in order to be a blessing to others, a number of these young troopers have banded together to make a wee album called Songs for the Road. There’s a couple of stand out tracks. Here’s one of them, by Hannah van Dorp:
Son of light, son of day
Don’t believe that your hope’s gone away
Friend of mine, how you shine,
Don’t allow your heart to be afraid
You’ve never seen anything like this before,
Never been anywhere on your own.
But you, my dear, see crystal clear this light
So don’t be afraid of the night.
You may not remember me
But I know where your heart’s always been.
Change your mind, you might fall behind but you know
Your reality’s seen.
You’ve never done anything like this before,
Never known any place on your own.
But you, my dear, see crystal clear this light
So don’t be afraid of the night.
no shortage of apples or artichokes
no shortage of walnuts or whiskey
no shortage of cherries or chickens
no shortage of lamb or leeks
no shortage of pork or pinot noir
no shortage of edible flowers or eggs
no shortage of sprouts or Green Man stouts
no shortage of capsicums or Colin’s creamy farmhouse brie
no shortage of potatoes or pies
no shortage of coffee or Cardrona merino lamb
no shortage of tabbouleh or Ken’s tussocks
no shortage of bread or beets
no shortage of galettes or garlic paste
no shortage of asparagus or Afife’s Lebanese delectations
no shortage of smoked salamis or short skirts
no shortage of pears or pizzas
no shortage of vegans or vendors
no shortage of buskers on the platform jamming the blues.
By the time we reached Tony’s ’Nemo’ van
the only fish left were
‘It’s been a shocker of a week’, he said.
‘With three hours out to the reef
and three hours back,
and with no calm
to get any sleep. Still,
there’s always next week,
© Jason Goroncy
The appearance of a new book by Australian writer David Malouf tends to be a happy occasion on my calendar. Since being introduced to his work as a high school kid (Fly Away Peter was one of only a small handful of books that I ever finished reading at school, and I have re-read it many times since), I have looked out for his books. The most recent novel I read of his was Ransom, published in 2009. I thought it was excellent. He now has a new book out, Earth Hour, his first collection of published poems since Typewriter Music (2007) and Revolving Days (2008). Here’s one of its offerings:
The Book of Grievances has its roots
in singular griefs. A man keeps his list,
his hit list. Writes down times
and places where the knife went in, was twisted. Writes
it down in the ample folder of
his heart as we call it, to be underlined
in red and revisited. The gun he keeps
oiled is also there in the heart’s darkness.
He takes it up and aims. Somebody falls, only he knows who
and where. In the place where grief
began and the wrong was done. When the dead
are as many as his griefs and the books are balanced he too
will be done.
The book, like the gun, is as warmly secret
in him as hoarded sweets. Along with the rough plan
to light out to the Territory, and once
gone send back no message.
– David Malouf, ‘Long Story Short’, in Earth Hour (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2014), 33.