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Catholic Anglicanism at its best is evangelistic to its roots and proclaims God’s transforming love to a world that sorely needs that message, a leading Australian Anglican theologian said in Melbourne recently.

The Revd Canon Dr Scott Cowdell, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn and Research Associate Professor of Theology at Charles Sturt University, told a dinner conversation on “Evangelical Catholicism” at St Peter’s Eastern Hill on 15 August that it was not the mind of Christ for Catholic Anglicanism to define itself by opposing Evangelicalism.

Dr Cowdell said Evangelical Catholicism was not evangelistic if that meant the world needed to be saved from an angry God.

“Rather, our world needs to come to its senses and learn the truth of God’s love for it, and to be transformed by that love,” he said. “Living and celebrating and exploring and proclaiming that vision is what Evangelical Catholicism means for me.

“What I’m suggesting to you is that Evangelical Catholicism is not Anglo-Catholicism to which we reluctantly add some ill-fitting Evangelical techniques for outreach. Rather, the Catholic vision is itself Evangelical, spilling over with the good news of Jesus Christ to transform the world in love, so that mission lies at the heart of Catholic Christianity rightly conceived. It’s not Church plus evangelism and mission but Church as the fountain of evangelism and mission according to its inner logic, rather than these representing merely optional external practices.”

Dr Cowdell was leading a panel discussion attended by about 140 people in St Peter’s Hall after preaching at High Mass for the Feast of the Assumption in the adjacent historic church. Other panellists were Melbourne author and historian Dr Muriel Porter; the Education Missioner for the Anglican Board of Mission – Australia, Mr Brad Chapman; and the Dean of Trinity College Theological School, the Revd Professor Dorothy Lee.

“Bishop Frank Weston (early 20th century Bishop of Zanzibar) reminded one of the great Anglo-Catholic congresses in their heyday that since they had obtained their tabernacles and their full Catholic privileges, they must go out and find Christ in the faces of England’s poor and neglected,” Dr Cowdell said. “Now that we have our rich traditions of Catholic worship, our aesthetics and our romance, we need to serve that vision by honouring the beauty and worth of a threatened creation and a humanity sold increasingly cheap.

“How do we improve our mission as Catholic Anglicans? Recovering the vision glorious by attention to our liturgy and our Gospel preaching is surely important, so that beauty and mystery begin to reveal their deepest truth in the face of Jesus Christ and our people begin to really understand this. We have to be more converted as Catholic Anglicans by the vision that we celebrate. Letting the transfigured Jesus Christ begin to transform our community life in parishes is part of this, so that we become more mature Christians together—welcoming not peevish, bold not risk averse, eager to gather new converts into our parishes to teach and nurture as they take on the mantle of Christ in life, rather than seeing them as threats to a comfortable status quo and to our own accustomed place in the parish pecking order…

“In addition I’d encourage us to rethink our approach to the young people with whom God blesses us. What if instead of a youth devoted to the escapism of multiple short-term dalliances and the ersatz relationships of social media we encouraged them to form Christian community and begin to discover Christ’s mission, to live with other young Christians for a time of meeting Christ both on the mountain and on the plain?… What if we encouraged our young to consider vocation to the sacred ministry, rather than directing them towards more worldly and successful careers? There’s no higher calling in life for a young Sydney Anglican than to go to Moore College and seek ordination. Can we match that in our parishes, or indeed in our families? The same can be said for the religious life, which is so far beyond the imagination of our times that few if any of us would encourage a son or daughter of obvious thoughtfulness and prayerfulness to follow that counter-cultural calling.”

In his sermon for the Assumption, entitled “Our long-lost half-sister”, Dr Cowdell said he wanted to make a perverse attempt at interpreting Marian dogma as a testimony to Evangelical truth because Mary’s Assumption, like her Immaculate Conception, took Christians to the very heart of what the Gospel meant.

“But to begin let me name the strangeness and even awkwardness that Anglicans typically feel about Mary,” he said. “Her feast days were not entirely removed from The Book of Common Prayer by that increasingly convinced Protestant Cranmer, but her cult and personal devotion to Mary are things that few if any Anglicans learn at their mother’s knee. Nevertheless the majority of Christians, both Roman Catholic and Orthodox, know Mary as a personal reality and they talk to her, not just about her—they believe her to be so caught up in the life of Christ and his heavenly Father that where they are she too must surely be.”

Dr Cowdell recalled having an adoption reunion with his natural mother, and subsequently with his natural father and his family, 20 years ago.

“It turned out that I had two half-sisters who I didn’t know about, and to meet them was to learn new things about myself… I was like them; I discovered that I liked them, and that they liked me. I tell you this story because it’s the same for us Anglicans with Mary, our beautiful, fascinating half-sister who many of us didn’t know that we had. So perhaps it’s worth getting to know Mary better, and to make a place for her in our Anglican family story.

“Now, the Evangelical will seek biblical warrant for this suggestion, and rightly, and we can I think provide it. Our lectionary readings tonight are a good start,” he said, citing Revelation 11:19 and 12:1-6 and 10 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-26.

“In our gospel tonight (Luke 1:39-56), Mary serves as a kind of hinge in salvation history,” Dr Cowdell said. “In Advent we focus both on John the Baptist and Mary as the forerunners of Christ, but while John the Baptist is less than the least in the new covenant, and only points with his long finger across the gap between the testaments to Christ, Mary crosses that gap from the Old Covenant to the New—not least in the Magnificat, drawn from the songbook of Israel to take its place of honour in the Church’s songbook. Likewise, Mary’s status as blessed among women is revealed in the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth, who leads the praise of Mary in her generation to which new voices are added in every subsequent generation, including ours tonight.

“All these readings point to being caught up in Christ’s purposes and in his salvation, and in two of them Mary stands centrally. She is integral not only to the mystery of the Church but to that of our salvation itself, not as its agent as the Protestants rightly fear but as a participant leading the way into Christ for the rest of us who follow.

“But if I can declare an Evangelical logic concerning Mary, based on her share in the life of Christ, I think we can also share in an Evangelical experience and an Evangelical joy. (Roman Catholic priest and theologian) James Alison points out that Marian devotion always brings joy and festivity in Catholic circles. Raised as an Anglican Evangelical, James Alison was converted to Catholicism at least in part because in Mary he found what Evangelical claims for assurance of salvation had failed to bring him: a sense of heaven bending to meet us in reassurance…

“This is a salutary reminder to us personally, but also as a Church. The joy and the freedom of the Gospel ought to be something that both Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics radiate, but too often our Church is more about duty than delight, more about dogged perseverance than celebration, more of an ordeal than a blessing, and increasingly more of a managed institution than a spiritual movement—besides which we’re now being subjected to excoriating public analysis by Royal Commissions, so that our many failings have helped make the Church scapegoat-in-chief for today’s legion of detractors. Whereas, for James Alison, Mary’s song of joy in the Magnificat provides a corrective boost to our flagging spirits, reminding us, as he memorably puts it, that ‘whatever may be the immediate appearances, we are in much more of a playground and much less of a war zone than we are inclined to think.

“So friends here is the Evangelical Catholicism that Mary brings us, our beautiful if unfamiliar or even unknown half-sister who is nevertheless like us, and one of us, who simply likes us, and wants us to talk to her—whose love for us and solidarity with us is constantly being expressed before God’s face in heaven. Getting to know my own half sisters, who I never knew, I came to understand myself better and feel better about myself. I suggest that the same can be true for Anglicans as we discover and get to know Mary.”

Dr Porter, in her presentation at the dinner, said operating out of an incarnational theological perspective alone could not work any longer, simply because people were not coming anywhere near the Church to hear its message, and were probably suspicious of it anyway.

She said Anglo-Catholics needed to identify what was the Good News and how they could put it into a “preachable, teachable, communicable theology of salvation – and how and where do we go about it”.

Nineteenth century Anglo-Catholics “went out into the hard places in cities in particular, where more respectable clergy and congregations preferred not to go”.

“We all know the stories of the Anglo-Catholic fathers working in the London slums, and the first Anglican religious sisters in this city working with the prostitutes and destitute people in the slums of inner Melbourne,” Dr Porter said. “They were there, with them, acting out their faith.

“And in the more respectable suburbs, Anglo-Catholics were salt and light as they encountered people in their suburban lives. In particular, we have seen the rites of passage as a place where we can spread the light of the Gospel in ways that fit our incarnational pattern. Marriage, baptism, funerals – they have been important times for us to proclaim the message of the God of love in ways not as confrontational as those of some other Christian traditions.

“But fewer and fewer people are coming to the church for marriage, to have their children baptized, or even to be buried. The big bluestone parishes of the upper middle-class suburbs are still seeing a reasonable number of these events, but even there the numbers are dropping dramatically. So those important opportunities are disappearing very quickly. Only 30 per cent of marriages now across the board involve churches and/or clergy, and that will only diminish further.

“The reality is that we are really now in a post-Christian age in this country. The mainstream media knows this – that’s why they take no notice of us anymore unless it is about sexual abuse. Incidentally, the sexual abuse crisis has caused us – all the churches – enormous damage. After all, the churches have taught a harsh moral code, and yet, look at what has happened. Many people now have absolutely no contact with the Church at all, and given what they see with the sexual abuse crisis, they have some justification in dismissing us as hypocrites. So operating out of an incarnational theological perspective alone cannot work any longer, simply because people are not coming anywhere near us to hear our message, and are probably suspicious of it anyway.”

Dr Porter said in the 2011 Census, 56% of Melbourne respondents said they were Christian but only 11 per cent of Melbourne’s population claimed to be Anglican.

“But very few of those who put ‘C of E’ on the census form ever have anything to do with the church,” she said. “Our average weekly attendance across the city is probably about 20,000. Sixty-six per cent of attending Anglicans are 50 and above, with 33 per cent of those more than 70. That means that lots of people, and particularly younger people, are completely untouched by the Gospel. So we really do have a mission field on our doorstep – a radically different situation to what most of us grew up with. It has all happened quite quickly and taken us by surprise.

“There is a level of mild panic around. Our Evangelical friends want to get more ‘bums on seats’ because they operate primarily out of a theology of rescue. They believe, quite simply, that if people are not ‘saved’ according to a specific formula, then they are destined for hell… Thus they need to get people into the church to be saved and to be discipled. This is a powerful impetus for evangelism, and is the reason I believe why they are so successful – because they have a real imperative to do outreach, and they are quite clear about their message. Simply – you must be saved; come to us and we’ll show you how. Mind you, the caricature of this theology is what has turned many people from the church!

“Now we Anglo-Catholics don’t have that same imperative. Our theology of salvation is more nuanced, more holistic, more universal, less formulaic and prescriptive. But by its very nature, that can make it rather too fuzzy. What exactly is our message? How could we frame it in clear, simple, terms? What do we have to sell? How can we communicate the Gospel message – preaching the coming of the kingdom of God – in ways that make sense, and are attractive, to 21st century secular Melburnians?

“Where do we proclaim our message? Rites of passage are no longer frequent enough to make them our primary place. What of our worship? We Anglo-Catholics set great store by our worship, and we are happy to welcome people as fellow travellers. We cherish belonging ahead of believing. We don’t require that people who come to us become fervent disciples. But we have to admit that our worship is mainly for the cognoscenti. It is hard for seekers to enter. Evangelicals who have become Anglo-Catholics point out that evangelical worship is easy to enter. No prior knowledge is required. How can we overcome the problems our worship presents without damaging the great treasure we have?”

Dr Porter said Anglo-Catholics had to work harder at making worship accessible and at “grafting in” seekers and newcomers with good Catholic introductory programs.

She said she did not live out her baptismal life because she was frightened of an angry God but because she wanted to be at one with the living God.

Mr Chapman said that in leading 16 and 17-year-olds on a pilgrimage to the Philippines, “they found in their brothers and sisters then image of God” and that it had changed their view of God. “They suddenly found that they had put themselves in the middle of a real-life encounter with the living God.”

But he said this “Transfiguration experience” was often one not experienced in their local church. “There is an element of cross-cultural immersion that allows us to be touched.”

Professor Lee said Anglo-Catholics needed to be aware of, and present, the wholeness of the Gospel and recognise that there was much about their Evangelical brothers and sisters that they could affirm.

She said this required a love of Scripture, a more inclusive vision with a concern to evangelise not just individuals but institutions, a prophetic witness and an understanding of the importance of spirituality.

From Anglican Media Melbourne
22/08/2013
by Mark Brolly

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The previous volume of essays, Five Uneasy Pieces was warmly received and there is a copy in our parish library. People of faith and spirituality were looking for liberating understandings of the Bible in engagement with their own sexualities and those of friends, family and beyond. The book demonstrated clearly that oppressive uses of selected texts from the Bible were invalid. But more is needed. The obligation upon scriptural scholars is to establish scripture’s hospitable inclusion of those whose sexual identities have been subjected to such oppression. Pieces of Ease and Grace retrieves biblical texts as actively embracing gays and lesbians within the community of faith. Their stories profoundly intersect with those of scripture. Here is a collection of biblical essays on sexuality and welcome that restores the Bible as a book of grace to those whose sexual identities had previously been lost, or condemned, in interpretation.

This new volume, Pieces of Ease and Grace, was recently launched at Trinity College Theological School.

The Bible speaks the Word of God, but it speaks it in the hearts of people who live in community and reflect upon Scripture within the full range of their human experiences: love, grace, sin, rejection, forgiveness, and acceptance. Pieces of Ease and Grace mines familiar Biblical stories from the perspective of gay and lesbian people, breaking open God’s acceptance for all. It is powerful reading for all believers.

The Hon Kristina Keneally, CEO Basketball Australia, former Premier of New South Wales, 2009–11.

This is a gentle book. It is not written in a hostile tone, with theological essays targeted at angry adversaries. Instead, it is a calm and loving book that explores a future world in which the Christian churches, in harmony with science and daily experience, reject an unbending insistence on universal, binary sexual identities. Instead, it explores diverse relationships be- tween loving human beings such as nowadays seem to be popping up everywhere before our very eyes. Drawing on biblical analysis and on the famous stories of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan and Mary and Martha and more, it dares to explore the grace and truth of diverse human relationships as they are — not as others demand they must be. And the central message is: gays are not them; they are us.

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, 1996–2009.

“Have I been dis-invited from performing the launch of this book at the Cathedral?”, I asked myself.  Anglicans (my denomination of Christianity) do not generally do dis-invitation.  They are far too well mannered.  Like the English, from whose, sturdy, independent culture they sprang.  They may not actually invite you across their threshold.  But, if they do, they will usually stick to the invitation, come Hell or high water.

So I was intrigued to hear that the venue of the launch of Pieces of Ease and Grace had been shifted from the Chapter House of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne to Trinity College.  ‘Good Heavens!’  I thought to myself.  Have I now been dis-invited even by the Anglicans?  Grim times indeed for gays and the Church.

In 2011, at the Melbourne Chapter House, in the presence of the Dean Bishop Mark Burton, I launched an earlier book of ATF Theology Press to which Alan Cadwallader contributed, Five Uneasy Pieces: Essays on Scripture and Sexuality.  So what’s the change?  That earlier book was edited by Fr. Nigel Wright, an openly gay Anglican priest.  Some words of mine on that occasion even gave the title to the present book.  In Five Uneasy Pieces, I wrote a layman’s Introduction in which I declared that the chapters of that book were not really ‘uneasy pieces’ at all.  Rather I regarded them ‘as full of ease and grace’.  From those words, Alan Cadwallader and his colleagues took the signature for this new book.

So why had the Cathedral disinvited me from a second launch?  Burrowing a little deeper, I found that the real reason was nothing more hostile than the fact that the launch had accidentally coincided with Mother’s Day: a festival of American invention that puts great demands upon churches and their meeting places.  So a quieter, but more available, venue was found at Trinity College in the grounds of the University of Melbourne.  I am happy to return to the college and I thank the Warden, Rev. Dr Andrew McGowan, for welcoming me again. I had the privilege of delivering the Barry Marshall Memorial Lecture at Trinity last year, in honour of one his predecessors.

If English politeness does not permit Anglicans to dis-invite, it does not seem to avail in the occasional non-invitation by others.  After the Barry Marshall Lecture, I wrote to the Principal of Ridley College, with its somewhat different theological tradition, suggesting that it might be of interest if I were to come and speak to his theological students about the Christian life as experienced by a gay Anglican of the evangelical tradition observed at Ridley.  So far no reply.  Likewise, a suggestion that I wrote to Moore Theological College, in Sydney, has elicited no reply.  This is surprising because I have visited Moore College before and was welcomed as a visitor and speaker.  I share the evangelical and Protestant tradition of Moore College, because that is the tradition of the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church in which I was raised.  As I said in my Barry Marshall Lecture, I am comfortably a Protestant Anglican.  But I will not pursue that line of discourse for fear of outstaying this second welcome at Trinity which bends in the Anglo Catholic direction.

In a chapter on the ‘Salvos’ in my book A Private Life (Allen & Unwin 2011), the story is told of how I was once dis-invited by the Salvation Army in Sydney after they had invited me to speak at their Citadel.  To their great credit, when I protested the dis-invitation was revoked.   The Salvos reinstated the invitation in a compromise by which one of their leaders was made available to explain the received wisdom of the Church on homosexuality.  In the event, it was a memorable, uplifting and harmonious encounter.  I have since renewed my engagement with the Salvos, who do so many good works that they demand respect.

Not so flexible was the Roman Catholic Church.  After I spoke at Newman College at the University of Melbourne a few years back, it came to my notice that the then Archbishop instructed that I was never to be invited again because of my expressed views on sexuality and Scripture.  Recently, when I was asked to launch a book on liberal values in education in Sydney, written by scholars at a Catholic College there, I was told that the Principal of the College had directed that I be dis-invited.  As I was.  And another institution of the Roman Catholic Church apparently had difficulties with establishing a gay students’ society in a big tertiary body, despite boasting in its advertisements that it is “open to people of all faiths” and although it receives much public funding for its work.  Speaking to one another about sexuality and religion is, it seems, difficult and painful for some and impossible for others.  That is where this new book comes in.

The sources of the discomfort are an over literalistic interpretation of the so-called ‘clobber passages’ in the Bible.  The ‘clobber passages’ are the very ones examined inFive Uneasy Pieces.  They are the well known verses in Genesis on the sodomites; in Leviticus 18, on the holiness code; and in Romans 1, 26 and 1 Corinthians 6 with their lists of evildoers and in 1 Timothy 1, the rules for holy living.  These are the supposed centrepieces for the People of the Book and sexuality and they have caused a continuing animosity toward GLBTI people world-wide.  Generosity, love and a welcoming spirit is difficult for many Jews, Christians and Islamic believers as they view gays, lesbians and transsexuals with disdain and hostility.

Every gay person who has been raised in one of these religions, and who worries about the rejection, knows the ‘clobber passages’.  The purpose of Five Uneasy Pieceswas to turn the spotlight of careful theological analysis upon those passages to find what they are really getting at.  The result was an extremely readable and popular book in which both Rev. Alan Cadwallader and Rev. Richard Treloar participated.  The experience was to cause them now to take the debate a step further.  Each of them has now contributed to this new book and Alan Cadwallader has replaced Nigel Wright as the editor of Pieces of Ease and Grace.  In every sense, the new book is a pushing of the envelope from where it was left in the Uneasy Pieces.

Ten of the fourteen authors are revealed in Pieces of Ease and Grace to be ordained Anglican priests.  Three derive from Melbourne, two come from Adelaide one is from Perth (Elizabeth Smith – whose introduction is aptly described as “Warming up for the Conversation”.)  Three come from Brisbane (Gillian Moses, Marion Free and Ceri Wynne).  A Preface is written by Professor Cynthia Kittredge of the United States, who is President of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars.  The Foreword is written on this occasion by Peter Francis.  Yet, there is not a single chapter from an Anglican theologian from the Sydney Diocese.  Perhaps theologians from Sydney find it too difficult even to approach this subject, at least in the company of their co-religionists of different viewpoints.  Perhaps they see Scripture through a different prism.

Of course, there are fine theologians and church historians in Sydney.   It seems unlikely that they all hold to a single party line.  I hope that in a third book in this series, one of them will take courage and remember the examples of the Church fathers who defended the English Church at its beginning.  And that they will feel brave enough and strong enough to come forward and join in the conversation.  In truth, it is the non-aggressive, calm and respectful dialogue offered in this new book that constitutes its most welcome and precious feature.   This is an attempt to promote the kind respectful conversation, and the exploration and exchange of analysis and opinions, that Archbishop Rowan Williams urged as the way forward, at least for Anglican Christians on this topic.

The universal church of Jesus, organised on episcopal lines, includes the Roman, Orthodox and Anglican communions.  There is still precious little dialogue in the Roman or Orthodox churches on sexuality, mainly because of a want of leadership and encouragement from the top.  At least Anglicanism is reflecting, once again, the independent ethos of English history.  It is conducting a dialogue.  Pieces of Ease and Grace contributes notably to the dialogue.  It is no accident that, earlier, it was Anglican Christianity that began the strong conversation about the role of women in traditional church organisations.  Now it is about gays.  Some observers who know more about those things than I have suggested that, in a curious way, the Anglican Church has been a kind of advance guard for conversations that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches of Christianity cannot yet have.   That is why this book has a larger audience than some of the authors may have suspected.   Pope Leo X may have been wiser than he knew, in naming King Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith”.  Those who would rescue the global episcopal churches are defending it.

I cannot remember a book with so many introductory chapters.  First, there is an Editor’s Prologue by Alan Cadwallader recounting the overall objective: to repair the lack of a proper dialogue between Christian churches and their GLBT members.  He sets out the challenge of reconciling two motives that should bind Christians together:  The love of Scripture as the source and font of Faith and the love of all people who accept Jesus as Lord.

The Preface by Cynthia Kittredge, as could be expected, sets the analytical tone of the book:  rooted in the Scriptures yet drawing strength from a ‘flesh and blood’ connection with the previously alienated and outcast.  Getting to know GLBT people is the first step to understanding the ordinariness of their lives.  Hostility cannot long survive in this new environment.  It sets the mind searching for explanations and reconciliation.

Peter Francis starts his Foreword vividly with a marvellous passage that tells us that he wrote his contribution in his study at Gladstone Library, under a portrait of the great 19th century English statesman.  W.E. Gladstone was, he points out, raised by his mother in the stern evangelical tradition of Christianity.   But he himself, pronounced that “long long ago I have cast those weeds behind me”.

Then there is an Introduction by Elizabeth Smith, an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Perth.  Warming the reader up for what is to follow, she urges us all “Please read on, if you come searching for glimpses of hope and life”.  Notice the word “please”.  Once again, English politeness and courtesy.  This is not a book of denunciation and accusation.  It is a hoping to bridge troubled waters and to promote quiet reflection.  Perhaps adopting this approach will identify at least some common ground.  Apart from everything else, this would seem, at face value, to be the approach proper to the global religion of reconciliation and love.

In Peter Francis’s Foreword there is a marvellous story from his childhood.  He recounts how a new preacher came to his all male school chapel and much to the delight of the boys, preached about masturbation and urged his listeners not to feel too guilty about it, for it was just part of their growing up.  The preacher went a step further and confronted the supposed Biblical source of animosity towards masturbation: the tale of Onan in chapter 38 of Genesis.  Peter Francis suggests that, just as a modern reading is needed for Onan’s supposed vice – so universal amongst humans – so today new approaches are needed for the supposed divine condemnation of gays.  Helpfully, Peter Francis quotes Bishop Edmund Browning, President of the Episcopal Church of the United States, in his farewell speech on his retirement:

“History tells us that biblical literalism was used to support both the practice of slavery and the denigration of women.  We have moved past slavery and we are moving past the oppression of women.  It is time to move past literalistic readings of the Bible to create prejudices against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Biblical literalism may be someone’s tradition, but it is not our tradition and it’s time we came home to our Anglican roots.”
The bulk of Pieces of Ease and Grace is made up of successive chapters addressing same-sex relationships portrayed elsewhere in the Bible.  None of the authors suggests (how could they know?) that the relationships described involve a sexual or erotic component.  Nevertheless, they assert that the love portrayed in the stones was real and vivid.   They indicate biblical recognition of the variety of human love beyond traditional marriage.  Thus the story of David and Jonathan is told by James Harding.  The story of Esther’s ‘coming out’ is recounted by Richard Treloar.  Alan Cadwallader recounts the tale of the Centurion and a Cannanite.   The story of the eunuchs in Matthew 19:12  is described by Ceri Wynne.  The story of Martha and Mary is recorded by Gillian Moses.  Gillian Townsley describes Euodia and Syntyche.  And Joan Riley reminds us of the great passage in 1 Corinthians 12 with its universal principle of inclusiveness.

If these biblical reflections do not have the power of the ‘clobber passages’, analysed in Five Uneasy Pieces, they demonstrate an arguable case concerning the variety of intense human love experiences recognised in the Bible.  Heteronormative demands and insistence that all else than procreative heteronormality is a mere trivia, are hard to reconcile with modern but also with ancient human experience.

This new book is easy to read.  It has an excellent Index of authors.  As well, a blessing in particular for to those of the evangelical tradition, there is a very detailed Index to Scripture.  This permits the reader to go directly to the Bible and to read the cited passages in context.   On my way to launch this book, I delayed for a moment in the Trinity College Chapel: a 19th Century brick affair in which Gladstone would have felt completely at home.  Curiosity got the better of me.   Because of my Sydney Diocese origins, I read the passage of the Bible marked for reflection that day.   It was the Book of Zechariah.  The marker showed that it was open at Chapter 1.  This recounts the wrath of the Lord, conveying the son of the Berechiah, in turn the son of Iddo, described as a prophet.  According to the text, the Lord was sore displeased with Zechariah because of his fathers’ errors.  Biblical literalism might suggest an interpretation of divine retribution beyond the offender unto the third generation.  Such inherited alienage has certainly been known in our world.  So what, I asked, was the significance of such a story today – especially for the people of the New Covenant?  How could inherited guilt possibly be reconciled with the message of individual redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness?  So literalism has its limits.  None of us should read the Bible expecting that every phrase and every word will have immediate lessons for today, reading each phrase and word in isolation and literally.

The last word on this new book belongs to Peter Francis. In his Foreword, unpromisingly, he mentions a message on a fridge magnet: a verse of poetry by an American poet, Edwin Markum.   Surely he will not give us American folksiness, I thought to myself.  Especially writing from Wales and in the Gladstone Library with its many treasures he would surely find an uplifting passage from the great English poets and writers:   say John Milton or John Bunyan.  But I read on, as many will do in Pieces of Ease and Grace.  Relationships, Peter Francis asserts, are perhaps the primary way of expanding the circle of our awareness of the world and of God’s plan within it.   According to him ‘it is up to us and our relationships’ whether we embrace, or reject, the ever-expanding circles of knowledge and empathy.  The fridge magnet tells us:
‘He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flought.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.
This is what Pieces of Ease and Grace attempts to do.  To draw a circle that brings into an important conversation people who are presently hostile, suspicious, uncertain or closed of mind.  It is sorely needed, and should be read, in all circles of the Christian Church.

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In a short film (available here) produced by Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Justin Welby says that the Holy Spirit “draws Christians from very different background and tradition together, in a body that loves one another”. The Holy Spirit “gives us a love for the world around us, and the capacity to both speak and act in a way that is revolutionary”.

The day of Pentecost, which falls 50 days after Easter Sunday and 10 days after Ascension Day, celebrates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the apostles – an event often considered to have been the birth of the Church. At the moment of Pentecost, God pours out his Spirit on men and women, young and old, slave and free. The Christian community created at Pentecost is one in which “everybody counts and everybody has a purpose, and there is nobody marginalised, nobody excluded”.

Pentecost is not just about celebrating “God’s birth in the Church”, but about remembering the unifying, empowering effects of his Spirit. Pentecost “thrusts us out into the world to deal with differences, to embrace diversity in common purpose”.

At the end of the film, Archbishop Justin calls for “a renewal of prayer and love for one another in the Church, because then people will see who Jesus is just in our lives”.

He concludes: “For me, the message is constantly coming back and saying, ‘Fill me with your Holy Spirit,’ asking God that we might receive the Holy Spirit individually and in the whole Church. Then we might see the work of the Spirit in the world around us, and cooperate with that work.”

Out of our own traditions, and into the waves':

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Thursday 21st March 2013

Jesus Christ calls us to step outside the comfort of our traditions and places ‘and go into the waves’, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today in his inauguration cermony at Canterbury Cathedral. 

Preaching to 2,000 people inside the cathedral and millions more watching and listening around the world, Archbishop Justin said that fear imprisons us and stops us from being fully human.

Drawing on the story of Christ beckoning the disciples to leave the boat and walk across the waters, the Archbishop recalled Jesus’ words: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”

On the day of his inauguration – which he acknowledged helped him sympathise with Peter’s  ‘fear and trembling’ – Archbishop Justin said that “our response to these words sets the patters of our lives, for the church, for the whole of society.”

Sermon at the Inauguration of the Ministry of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Portal Welby

Canterbury Cathedral, 21st March 2013

(Commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Feast of St Benedict)

Ruth 2:10-16; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Matthew 14:22-33; “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”, Matthew 14:27 

To each one of us, whoever and wherever we are,  joining us from far away by television of radio, or here in the Cathedral, Jesus calls through the storms and darkness of life and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”.

Our response to those words sets the pattern for our lives, for the church, for the whole of society. Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human. Uniquely in all of human history Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who as living love liberates holy courage.

“If it is you tell me to come to you on the water” Peter says, and Jesus replies “come”. History does not relate what the disciples thought about getting out of a perfectly serviceable boat, but Peter was right, and they were wrong. The utterly absurd is completely reasonable when Jesus is the one who is calling. Courage is liberated, and he gets out of the boat, walks a bit, and then fails. Love catches him, gently sets him right, and in a moment they are both in the boat and there is peace. Courage failed, but Jesus is stronger than failure.

The fear of the disciples was reasonable. People do not walk on water, but this person did. For us to trust and follow Christ is reasonable if He is what the disciples end up saying He is; “truly you are the Son of God”. Each of us now needs to heed His voice calling to us, and to get out of the boat and go to Him. Because even when we fail, we find peace and hope and become more fully human than we can imagine: failure forgiven, courage liberated, hope persevering, love abounding.

For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community. Sometimes we have done better, sometimes worse. When we do better we make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish. Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage. The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary courage.

In humility and simplicity Pope Francis called us on Tuesday to be protectors of each other: of the natural world, of the poor and vulnerable. Courage is released in a society that is under the authority of God, so that we may become the fully human community of which we all dream. Let us hear Christ who calls to us and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”.

The first reading we heard dates from the time of Israel before the Kings. It is the account of a Moabite refugee – utterly stigmatised, inescapably despised – taking the huge risk of choosing a God she does not know in a place she has not been, and finding security when she does so. The society Ruth went to was healthy because it was based on obedience to God, both in public care and private love.

Today we may properly differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a healthy society.  But if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making. There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls to us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability.

For nearly two thousand years the Church has sought, often failing, to recognise in its way of being that Jesus is the Son of God. The wind and waves divided Jesus from the disciples. Peter ventures out in fear and trembling (as you may imagine I relate to him at this point). Jesus reconciles Peter to Himself and makes the possibility for all the disciples to find peace. All the life of our diverse churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled afresh to God and so are able to reconcile others. A Christ-heeding life changes the church and a Christ-heeding church changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved European civilisation.

The more the Church is authentically heeding Jesus’ call, leaving its securities, speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage, leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw. I look at the Anglican leaders here and remember that in many cases round the world their people are scattered to the four winds or driven underground:  by persecution, by storms of all sorts, even by cultural change.  Many Christians are martyred now as in the past.

Yet at the same time the church transforms society when it takes the risks of renewal in prayer, of reconciliation and of confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. In England alone the churches together run innumerable food banks, shelter the homeless, educate a million children, offer debt counselling, comfort the bereaved, and far, far more. All this comes from heeding the call of Jesus Christ. Internationally, churches run refugee camps, mediate civil wars, organise elections, set up hospitals. All of it happens because of heeding the call to go to Jesus through the storms and across the waves.

There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but because to us and to all people Jesus comes and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed.

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“The light shines in the darkness” – 2013 Easter message from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” the Gospel of St John tells us (John 1:5).

This is true of all time and especially true as we remember the events of Good Friday.

Jesus died a cruel death on the cross – a slow and agonising torture in total humiliation. It might have seemed to some that the light of his message would have been extinguished that day, but instead it was the seed bed for his message of love and hope to the whole world.

The victory of death over his life was not as it seemed. Christians know that Jesus’ death on the cross was a victory over sin and death. Even more his victory is for all time – his light overcoming the darkness of sin and despair in every age. He has made the impossible possible.

Know the power of Jesus to save and to heal in your life. That is what Jesus wanted as he hung on the cross.

Easter does not end with Good Friday. On Easter Day we celebrate the coming of the light – a light which the powers of darkness, apparently victorious on Good Friday, cannot, and will not, extinguish.

Jesus embodied this light – the pure love of God – in all that he said and did, and most completely on the cross. Even in the most terrible affliction, he did not stop loving.

Christ rose again in glory on Easter Day, and his light continues to rise to scatter all our darkness.

Despite many appearances to the contrary, this bright flame of love continues to shine in the darkness.

We know only too well those situations where darkness covers our lives. Our present struggles and the weight of world events, all obscure our hope.

But the hope of the risen Christ can transform our darkness to light.

May you open your hearts and minds to the light of Christ this Easter, and may you know the transforming power of his love.

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From the Eureka Street article by Rev’d Dr Andrew Hamilton:

Pope Benedict’s resignation may be the most significant act of his papacy. It draws attention away from the mystique of popes and bishops, and focuses it firmly on their call to serve the Church.

His resignation allows us to reflect on his time as Pope. When the Cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger many Catholics were surprised, and some alarmed at the choice. They identified him with the stern disciplinary actions and doctrinal intransigence of the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith. They assumed he would bring the same narrow focus to his leadership of the Catholic Church.

The reality has been rather different. Certainly, in his approach to the liturgy and in his different attitudes to reactionary and liberal groups on the margins of the Catholic Church, the continuity between the Cardinal and the Pope has been noticeable. But most notable has been the continuing depth and breadth of his reflection.

He has been above all a teacher who can draw richly on Catholic spiritual and theological tradition to illuminate the large social and cultural issues of our day. Over the last decade the Christian world has been blessed by having such reflective and knowledgeable leaders as Pope Benedict and Rowan Williams. For Catholics his resignation will be an opportunity to say thank you to a man who has served the Church faithfully as Pope.

He was a scholar, and to adjust to the constraints and expectations of a public person clearly was not easy for him. His scholarly musings got him into trouble from time to time, but he learned from his mistakes, and finally seemed to derive wry enjoyment from his public engagements, particularly with young people, who responded to his humanity. In his retirement he will surely be looked on with affection and good will.

It is too soon to sum up his achievements and the challenges he leaves to the Church and so to his successor. He grasped the extent and the evil of clerical sexual abuse; dealing with it, and with the aspects of clerical culture that have contributed to it, will occupy the Catholic Church and his successors for the next generation.

Benedict was an acute observer of contemporary culture, particularly of how the focus on technological solutions to problems has pushed aside human values. But his critical analysis in terms of secularism has sometimes encouraged the image of a church in mortal conflict with modern society. Christian engagement with modernity is a continuing and complex story, and we may expect Benedict’s successor to bring fresh insights to it.

For the Catholic Church, perhaps Benedict’s best gift will turn out to be his resignation. I confess that I had given up on my initial hope after his election as an elderly man that he would resign from his position rather than die in office. He seemed to have the historical grasp and theological breadth required to make this precedent-setting decision, but time was passing.

Given the importance of the papacy in the Catholic Church, the expectation that popes would continue to hold office until death was quite destructive. The increase in life expectancy meant that the cardinals would tend to elect only elderly men because this would be the only way to guarantee change within a reasonable time.

The expectation also meant that during a pope’s long decline the principles of good church governance would yield to spiritual snake oil. So John Paul II’s suffering during his last years was justified as the heroic acceptance of weakness and a demonstration of the value of the frail and elderly in a society that depreciated them.

The Pope’s personal courage and endurance were admirable, and the value of the elderly undeniable. But Popes exist for the good of the Church, and it is difficult to see how the Church’s interests are best served by men unable to give full attention to their duties.

So Pope Benedict’s resignation is good because it will now allow a circuit breaker for an ageing pope. It will also takes the focus away from the mystique of the Pope to his responsibilities to the church, and will lead to a consideration of what length of tenure by other office holders in the church best serves the church.

Jesus: The greatest gift of Christmas

A decade ago I drove the thousand kilometre trip from my home in Darwin to be in Tennant Creek for the Christmas Day service. People from that small isolated town and nearby cattle stations gathered to give thanks to God for the birth of Jesus. Yet the authentic remembrance there of Christmas and the gladness for God’s gift to us was as present and powerful as it is in the packed St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne. The context, music and experience are very different. But the central focus of celebration is the same, the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, and the promised one from God. We can roll back the years much further and encounter another cultural context in ancient Bethlehem. The otherwise undistinguished couple, Joseph and Mary, seek a place of rest and shelter so that Mary can give birth. Whether for the Eastern sages or the humble shepherds, the focus of that first Christmas was the birth of Jesus Christ – joyful and thankful. There is no reason our celebration should be any different.

Christmas is firstly a spiritual appreciation of God’s gift to us of his son, Jesus.

It is also a cultural observance and perhaps it is young children who best understand and experience the joy and wonder of Christmas. Their excitement and the joys of receiving and giving gifts are signs of the true meaning of Christmas.

So what is this joy, and how do we experience it?

Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to John. He says that if we abide in his love, and if we love each other as he loves us, we will know his joy and our joy will be complete (John 15:9-12). We can glimpse something of this joy this Christmas, by giving to others gladly and generously and by celebrating and giving thanks for all the simple joys of our humanity – particularly our friendships and family relationships.May we be mindful, too, of those for whom Christmas may be a sad or even desperate time – including the homeless, the lonely and bereaved, the mentally ill, those with terminal illnesses, and asylum seekers facing an uncertain future. The brokenness of our world that sees the innocent suffer and the apparent victory of the strong over the weak should bring us back to this point of hope for our world: that God’s love, so fully present in Jesus, is open for us all today and every day.

Why not make a space to hear this joyful news afresh this Christmas?

 

See the message on YouTube at: www.melbourne.anglican.com.au/christmas

All forms of media are abuzz with comments and opinions on the 2DAYFM ‘prank’ which led to the suicide of a nurse at King Edward Hospital in London.

For some (for whom the notion of irony is merely something that their mother does when they take their washing home to her) this is yet another excuse to troll against the radio presenters in question with vicious and vacuous statements, threats and expletives, thereby disclosing the dark side of their own humanity.

Others (here) seek to excuse the notion of pranking, blaming the victim’s sensibility as being a product of her monarchial society. If you can’t blame the victim, let’s blame the culture they live in, but never our own. After all that might involve recognising that the classic Australian expression ‘larrikin’ is no more than an excuse for bad behaviour by those who seek a cheap laugh and attention most likely at someone else’s expense. ‘Boys will be boys’ is another excuse for the antics of blokes – male adults who failed to mature. These are the attitudes which fan unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, fraternities, university colleges and elsewhere – behaviour that proves so difficult to eradicate.

Self-gratification seems the sole purpose of the prankster, punk’ster and bully. Over the past few days the radio presenters and their station gloated about ‘their’ success, one claiming that they had peaked’ on the first week in their job. Their radio station repeated the recording of the phone call numerous times, milking their stupidity and that of their listeners for all they thought it was worth, with never a thought to any impact their actions may have had on anyone else – the nurse, the patient, the hospital, the Queen, our international reputation for immaturity.

Meanwhile there is always someone affected by such behaviour. Victims who are never the subject of prior consideration by the prankster, punker or bully. Indeed, had the events not turned so unfortunately tragic, this on-going media conversation of recrimination and blame would not have occurred. Does that mean that bad behaviour is acceptable up until the consequences cross some socially-unacceptable line? And why should such a limit be related to the consequences rather than the behaviour itself. No harm, no foul?

It is utter nonsense to suggest that that there was no forseeable impact on the innocent parties involved in this event, yet this is the radio station’s spin. Why should her humiliation be any less than those who have committed suicide due to bullying and humiliation at the hands of others. It may not have been forseeable by the radio station and their presenters but that it an indictment on them.

Mental health experts have been quick seek to lesson the outrage against the radio presenters, but seem in denial that this is the very issue which was at play for the nurse who took the call. Unless they take a stand against this pranking culture, they are complicit in condoning the very conduct that can lead to mental health problems.

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Finding the way – a theology of ageing, is a research paper written by Reverend Canon Dr Stephen Ames and commissioned by Benetas, which looks into the issues surrounding older people in Australia, particularly issues around spirituality and what constitutes a ‘positive’ experience in ageing.

It asks the questions, what is positive ageing for older Australians and how are older people perceived by society. It explores why there are negative attitudes and stereotypes around ageing and what our society can do to change these perceptions.

A theology of ageing also examines ageing from a spiritual point of view, as a Christian or otherwise. It also explores what it means to be a ‘whole person’ when you age and challenges the idea that as you age, you lose who you are.

The full paper can be downloaded here.

A summary version (for our study groups in November – time for you to read it!) can be downloaded here.