Eugene Peterson (d. 22 October 2018)

Thank you, Eugene.

I am among a countless number of pastors and god-botherers who have been absolutely blessed through your ministry and witness, especially through your words – words that saved me on more than one occasion. Thank you so much.

May the Lord bless you and keep you …

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For any listening in, who could forget that timely- and perceptively-diagnosed challenge and invitation with which Peterson began his extraordinary book Working the Angles?

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns – how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists. “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of good saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.

Yeats on ‘supreme art’

William Butler Yeats

‘Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead’.

– William Butler Yeats

… and a poem – ‘The Fascination of What’s Difficult’ – from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989):

The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

church: a wounded and wounding body

Bruceherman - Elegy for St. Catherine (2004)‘If I conclude that my Christian brothers or sisters are deeply and damagingly mistaken in their decisions, I accept for myself the brokenness in the Body that this entails. These are my wounds, just as those who disagree with me are wounded by what they consider to be my failure or even betrayal. So long as we still have a language in common and the “grammar of obedience” in common, we have, I believe, to turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and to embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided. The communion’s need for health and mercy is inseparable from my own need for health and mercy. To remain in communion is to remain in solidarity with those who are wounded as well as wounding the Church, in the trust that within the Body of Christ the confronting of wounds is part of opening ourselves to healing’.

– Rowan Williams

Image: Bruce Herman, ‘Elegy for St. Catherine’ (2004).

 

Freedom as orthodoxy

Pledge of allegiance“There is no mysticism in the American concept of the state or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority ….

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

– Justice Robert H. Jackson. Cited in Jack David Eller, “Why Do We Pledge Allegiance?”

Voluntary Assisted Dying Forum

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On Writing Essays: A Little Resource for (my) Theological Students

I recently created a little video offering some general advice about writing, and about writing essays. It is intended to be a basic resource for students enrolled in my Beginning Theological Studies class. It may be that parts of it are of some help to other students also. You should feel free to use/share it if you think it is suitable for your mob too.

A little note on the freedom of the conscience

The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.jpgWhen, in 1644, the great Baptist pastor Roger Williams defended the claim that Christ is King alone over conscience ‘was and is the summe of all true preaching of the Gospell or glad newes’ (The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution), he was articulating a basic tenet of what it means to do faith in the Free Church tradition. He was also signalling that as noble as the human conscience is, its freedom is not achieved by its being made into an idol. Rather, the conscience is free – and faith is truly voluntaristic – only insofar as it recognises the final authority of Another.

A few centuries later, another Free Churchman, one P. T. Forsyth, made the same point in his own way:

It is one of the fundamental mistakes we make about our own Protestantism to say that the authority is the conscience, and the Christian conscience in particular. Not so. The authority is nothing in us, but something in history. It is something given us. What is in us only recognises it. And the conscience which now recognises it has long been created by it. The conscience recognises the tone of injunction, but what is enjoined is given by history, and has passed into the historic consciousness. We have the inner intuition of what is really a great historic teleology. But it is not gathered up from all history by an induction, which, as history is far from finished, could never give us anything final or authoritative. It is defined in it at a fixed point by faith in the experienced revelation of final purpose within God’s act of Gospel there. The authority is not the conscience [or the Bible, or the Pope, or Magistrate, or State, or human experience, or culture, or vote, no matter how democratic] but it is offered to it. The conscience of God is not latent in our conscience, but revealed to it in history. It is history centred in Christ, it is not conscience, that is the real court of morals. And it is there accordingly that we find the authority for Christian faith and Christian theology, for faith and theology both. (The Principle of Authority)

An invitation to mutual reverence

Martin Kammler, ‘The Kindness and Cruelty of Being Human’ (Switzerland, nd)

‘We deal in disparagement and feel it proves we are freer of illusion than earlier generations were. We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence. God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough’.

– Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here?

‘On Behalf of the Committee’

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Let us begin by briefly drawing
attention to your inevitable death.

We’re sorry if we’ve startled you by writing
so directly, but we worried you

might not otherwise notice, since
you’ve ignored several clear signs

of your demise: the steady rupture
of filaments in old light bulbs,

your car’s plaintive whine, and the pastel
colony multiplying across the Life

brand loaf in your breadbox.
We admit, some of the attempts

to remind you of your limited tenure
among the living were rather obscure.

The squall of the child next door
was, at times, barely audible,

and the ants would only on occasion
march at a pace that allowed

you to observe them carrying off
the parted corpse of some fellow

creeping thing. We remain hopeful
that your mother’s occasional calls

will one day trick you out of your complacency.
However, if you cannot learn how even

the perfect flourishing of a bird in flight
performs the poem of your death, this

body will remain to show you how again.

– Joshua Jones, ‘On Behalf of the Committee’, in Letters Journal.

On tidal waves, and racism

The Canberra Times, Saturday 13 April, 1968:

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And in happier news, you could hire a typewriter for 35c/week:

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Science Notes and News

Warkworth, Wednesday, August 14, 1912:

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Full page here:

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On the humanities in an Apollonian age

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Ross Douthat has written a good little piece about the humanities in the NYT in which he riffs on W. H. Auden and Alan Jacobs’ recent book The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in An Age of Crisis. The entire (short) piece is worth reading, but here’s a snippet:

In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection.

At the moment both efforts look like failed attempts. But is there an alternative? ….

– Ross Douthat, ‘Oh, the Humanities!’. The New York Times, 8 August (2018).

Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Apollo and Python’ (exhibited 1811). Tate.

Book Launch: A Dialogue Between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke

Whitley College has the pleasure to host the launch of Dr Xiaoli Yang’s recent book A Dialogue Between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke: Chinese Homecoming and the Relationship with Jesus Christ. 

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The book has been well received by a wide range of scholars:

“This is no mere correlationist project wherein Haizi provides the questions and Luke(‘s Jesus) responds. Instead, there is a dizzying multi-directionality through which various chasms – East-West, Yin-Yang, ancient-contemporary, modern-postmodern, rural-urban, terrestrial-cosmic, poetic-philosophical, symbolic-discursive, epistemological-ontological, immanence-transcendence – are bridged, irreversibly through the Dao of Haizi’s suicide and ultimately through the way of Jesus’ cross. Yang herself emerges as poet giving profound expression to the contemporary global (dis)location, as prophet naming and diagnosing its instable homelessness, and as priest mediating the possibility of a fresh gospel homecoming precisely in and through the desolation of late modernity’s interface with the post-Mao Chinese soul. The word Dialogue in the title is too modest; be forewarned of the tremors this book will unleash to those who think philosophy and theology are mostly discursive Western undertakings.” — Amos Yong, Professor of Theology & Mission, Fuller Seminary

” A Dialogue between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke is a welcome contribution to the field of intercultural theology. It skillfully employs together four lenses for hermeneutical reading – the historical, literary, philosophical, and religious — to see freshly Luke and the message of Jesus, now heard along with the poetry of Haizi (1964-1989), a voice still new in the West. Drawing poetry into the work of intercultural learning, Xiaoli Yang also brings new resources from the Chinese context into theological reflection, giving new substance to the ideals and practices of an Asian Christian theology. Comparative theologians too will enjoy learning from Yang’s methods and purposes, broadening our repertoire for the work of interreligious theological learning today.” — Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard University

“This book offers us an insight into the souls of the contemporary Chinese genuine intellectuals, who have lost their cultural and spiritual home. Through the unique approach combining literary study, intercultural dialogue and comparative theology, Ms. Yang helps us get to such a highland, where we could see clearly the home way of an honest genius poet who committed suicide but never ‘died’, and more importantly, see why millions of Chinese people today are struggling to leave their homeland for new home in foreign land, and for the heavenly home to be with Jesus Christ.” — He Guanghu, Professor of Religious Studies, Renmin University of China

“Historical events claim our attention and can generate a desire to rethink our own philosophical stance. Haizi agonized over social realities of his day through his poetry and ultimately through suicide. This is a fascinating yet tragic personal revelation. The advantage of this tragedy is that it opens up for the reader an opportunity to reflect on one’s own ideas. Dr Xiaoli Yang’s book provides some assistance in this by outlining how one can dialogue with Haizi’s poetry and compare the thinking with another historical figure, Jesus, who also challenged attitudes of the day and finally was killed for his revelations.” —David Claydon, OAM; previous International Director of the Lausanne Movement; author & theological lecturer

Does Australia want its own story?

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‘[F]reedom exists in the space of memory, and only by walking back into the shadows is it possible for us all to finally be free’.

What an insightful, gracious, intelligent, and profoundly-hopeful speech Richard Flanagan gave at this year’s Garma festival.

A must-read for all Aussies.

[Image: Mick Tsikas/EPA, for The Guardian]

Patrick Deneen on the three pillars of liberal anticulture

Yesterday, I started on a book that’s been on my ‘must read’ pile for most of this year – Patrick Deneen’s gripping and highly-readable Why Liberalism Failed. While Deneen appears to read some of the most significant historical shifts in the West’s cultural and political imaginary in ways that are markedly less contested than do I, there is no doubt that, at least to where I’ve read up to so far, his book offers a stimulating and broadly-compelling diagnosis of liberalism, its vacuous promises, its parasitic nature, and its self-defeating vision.

Here’s a taster:

‘Liberal anticulture rests on three pillars: first, the wholesale conquest of nature, which consequently makes nature into an independent object requiring salvation by the notional elimination of humanity; second, a new experience of time as a pastless present in which the future is a foreign land; and third, an order that renders place fungible and bereft of definitional meaning. These three cornerstones of human experience—nature, time and place—form the basis of culture, and liberalism’s success is premised upon their uprooting and replacement with facsimiles that bear the same names.

The advance of this anticulture takes two primary forms. Anticulture is the consequence of a regime of standardizing law replacing widely observed informal norms that come to be discarded as forms of oppression; and it is the simultaneous consequence of a universal and homogenous market, resulting in a monoculture that, like its agricultural analogue, colonizes and destroys actual cultures rooted in experience, history, and place. These two visages of the liberal anticulture thus free us from other specific people and embedded relationships, replacing custom with abstract and depersonalized law, liberating us from personal obligations and debts, replacing what have come to be perceived as burdens on our individual autonomous freedom with pervasive legal threat and generalized financial indebtedness. In the effort to secure the radical autonomy of individuals, liberal law and the liberal market replace actual culture with an encompassing anticulture.

This anticulture is the arena of our liberty—yet increasingly, it is rightly perceived as the locus of our bondage and even a threat to our continued existence. The simultaneous heady joy and gnawing anxieties of a liberated humanity, shorn of the compass of tradition and inheritance that were the hallmarks of embedded culture, are indicators of liberalism’s waxing success and accumulating failure. The paradox is our growing belief that we are thralls to the very sources of our liberation—pervasive legal surveillance and control of people alongside technological control of nature. As the empire of liberty grows, the reality of liberty recedes. The anticulture of liberalism—supposedly the source of our liberation—accelerates liberalism’s success and demise’.

– Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 65–67.

Dementia forces us to choose

Heather Goodwind - La Loca, Book 12 #36.jpg

‘Dementia forces us to choose. Confronted with someone who can no longer think or remember clearly, who cannot conceptualise a range of options or contribute to the productivity of material society, we are forced to decide whether we will accept them as a person or not. And if we do, we must accept that we have been working with a narrow, impoverished and functionalist view of personhood that privileges the rights and interests of thinking, choosing consumers while marginalising people with dementia and other diseases like it. It is from this perspective that a person with dementia can only be understood as a “burden” on society’.

– Peter Kevern, ‘Why are we so afraid of dementia?’

[Image: Heather Goodwind, ‘La Loca, Book 12 #36’]

 

on a kind of ecological grace and the ethical life

‘The real choice we all face is not what to buy, whether to fly or whether to have children but whether we are willing to commit to living ethically in a broken world, a world in which human beings are dependent for collective survival on a kind of ecological grace. There is no utopia, no Planet B, no salvation, no escape. We’re all stuck here together. And living in that world, the only world there is, means giving up any claims to innocence or moral purity, since to live at all means to cause suffering.

Living ethically means understanding that our actions have consequences, taking responsibility for how those consequences ripple out across the web of life in which each of us is irrevocably enmeshed and working every day to ease what suffering we can. Living ethically means limiting our desires, respecting the deep interdependence of all things in nature and honoring the fact that our existence on this planet is a gift that comes from nowhere and may be taken back at any time’.

– Roy Scranton, Raising My Child in a Doomed World’

David Bentley Hart on ‘America’

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‘America — with its decaying infrastructure, its third-world public transit, its shrinking labor market, its evaporating middle class, its expanding gulf between rich and poor, its heartless health insurance system, its mindless indifference to a dying ecology, its predatory credit agencies, its looming Social Security collapse, its interminable war, its metastasizing national debt and all the social pathologies that gave it a degenerate imbecile and child-abducting sadist as its president — remains the only developed economy in the world that believes it wrong to use civic wealth for civic goods. Its absurdly engorged military budget diverts hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the public weal to those who profit from the military-industrial complex. Its plutocratic policies and libertarian ethos are immune to all appeals of human solidarity. It towers over the world, but promises secure shelter only to the fortunate few’.

– David Bentley Hart, ‘The New York Yankees Are a Moral Abomination’. The New York Times, 14 July 2018.

[Image: Gustave Doré, ‘Pantagruel’s meal’ (1854)]

Jacob Stratman, ‘a poem for my sons when they yell at God’

Jan Brueghel the Elder - Jonah Leaving the Whale (c. 1600).jpg

Jan Brueghel the Elder, ‘Jonah Leaving the Whale’ (c. 1600)

In candied red, the white-bearded
prophet emerges hands still clasped in prayer,
clean, really clean, maybe too clean, first-day-
of-school clean, baptism clean. It is a childish
painting, perhaps, the punished coming up
for air after a three-day, divine timeout,
his begging and pleading inside this flesh
box, sincere or not, but he’s out, old and fresh
in a world around him, Brueghel is sure
to make clear, swirling blue-black and solid
brown, the earth’s bruising, perhaps a wish
of healing yellow in the distance, a light
faded behind the eye’s focus. The dogfish
eyes big and rolling back mouth open

like the cave like the tomb like the brown creek
carp we refuse to touch hate to catch squishy
and formless but counted nonetheless. But
he will dirty himself again after Nineveh
under the vine cussing at God telling
God His own business, and he will forget
the welcoming red the fresh fruit color
of that cloak—the thin (or thinning) clearing
in the background beyond sea and storm,
even the mouth as exit as release.
He will soon forget to consider how
suspicious it is for a man like him
sitting in death’s darkness for three days
to come out so clean so bright so forgiven.

– Jacob Stratman, ‘a poem for my sons when they yell at God’, 2018. (Source)

Mae La Refugee Camp under flood

In the last 48 hours, Zone C1A in Mae La Refugee Camp on the Thai-Burma border, and which is home to some 40–50,000 refugees, mostly Karen, has been hit with a big flood. As if life in the camp isn’t hard enough as it is …

Thankfully, there has been no loss of life. The damage at this stage has been mostly to school furniture and books.

If you’re the praying kind, then folk in the camp would greatly value your prayers at this time.

And if you’re able to help out financially, then donations marked ‘Mae La Refugee Camp Flood Fund’ can be made via PayPal (contact me for details) or directly to this bank account:

Name: Moe Win Tun Kin
Bank: Commonwealth Bank of Australia
SWIFT code: CTBAAU2S
BSB number: 063 622
Account number: 1024 8600

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