Prayers for 24 April 2016

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A harvest thanksgiving service, a day before ANZAC Day, and thinking about the arrival of the first Syrian refugees to Dunedin, I wrote these prayers:

Hello god, here is our prayers. Listen to us I pray. Bend down from heaven and bend your ear.

Hear us when we pray to you. Are you ready for us? We are coming to you.

You see before us the harvest offering, tokens of your generosity towards us.

After ten thousand years of civilised history and architecture we are still dependent on the layers of soil beneath our feet, and the promise of rain from the vaults of heaven.

Provide us for our daily needs, for what we produce and what grow, and what we need, from earth and sky and encircling ocean.

For all our pride in being educated first world citizens we still live from day to day.

Our nations, our cities, our communities, even our families – all may be lost and swept aside if the meals stop coming, and we are left as broken stones and foundations in the waste land.

Lord, you know our needs. You know them before they come to mind.

When we call on you we know you will meet us halfway because you know and you are coming to get us.

We do not walk home alone for you are with us and you guide us – share our playlunch with us, we will sit and eat sandwiches together.

In making this gesture of our gifts returned to you we are reminded that renew our citizenship in your kingdom.

We are the wandering people, from the first garden to the promise of the new Jerusalem.

We are highly mobile. We settle for a generation and then we move on.

We have the vision of the city, a city which has the God which gives righteousness and peace at its heart.

We would wish our city to be the welcoming place, to settlers, refugees, visitors and tourists.

Lord, save our land from the violence, from the bombs and missiles that have fallen on others.

Instead let the rain, the wind, the snow, and brief intervals of sun fall on us.

If ours is a safe city, then let us share it with others, let us be hospitible, let us be diverse.

Lord, within these hills, you have set us on a broad place, may it be home to all your people.

We live in our islands on the edge of the world, and the world seems full of danger, keep that danger far from our shores, Lord God, protect our islands, and nurture all who live here.

We remember those who have died to keep our islands at peace in past wars.

If we go from these islands again, then let our men and women go as peace keepers, and not as soldiers and warriors, when they go on that great adventure.

We remember those in our families who have gone, now and in previous generations.

We honour their sacrifice.

Lord, you are the Lord of the Harvest, even if it is the harvest of lost souls.

We do not get out of life alive, and our hope is our children, our grand-children, and our new-born will be our inheritors in a civilisation of peace.

May we be witnesses to your kingdom at this time, and in our life-time, and share our vision for our community with others who walk with us.

Give us good leadership – in our elected leaders in local government and in parliament.

We pray for our moderator, the Right Rev. Andrew Norton, that he would be a man who speaks for your Church.

Make us a generous people, abundant in our celebration, catering for friend and critic alike.

May we see Christ in the eye of the person opposite to us, teach us to see the stranger.

 

…we say together

Prayers for Lent 3, 28 February 2016

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Good morning, big god, we come to prayer, spare us a moment and bend your ear to listen to us while we talk words. Come among us, holy spirit, we can wait, for we are waiting on you. We welcome you in, on the hot sweaty air, the cloudless blue skies, the long evenings. We love this summer season you have sent us, but don’t get us wrong, we could still do with a bit of rain, in your good time, please.

As it’s this time of year again, we’re back at work, school’s in, and the next thing we know, there’s university students back, filling up our streets with young people, and our ears with their noise. Now the weather’s settled, everyone is back. Our city revives from its long summer amnesia and the days of the year begin. Welcome us all in, and bring about your kingdom. We are a motley bunch: working and retired, young and old, families and children and single people. So welcome us all in, the familiar and the new faces, people who are coming and going, all of us part of your work for our salvation.

We pray for your church – keep us doing good works: to be a strength for those who need our support; to be a home to the wanderers, whether pilgrims, tourists or those seeking sanctuary; to be alongside those who need us to sit with them; and to live within our doubts. Remember our church leaders, our moderator, Andrew Norton, Assembly Office in Wellington, and others around our islands. We pray for the peace of our national church.

We pray for those you have given authority on earth, the Governor-General and the ministers of our government. We pray for our leaders in parliament and in council, may our representatives lay aside their differences and their own interests, to govern the country and our city, to maintain justice, and preserve our welfare and peace.

God defend New Zealand, keep our islands within your protection. We are here on the edge of the world. Your oceans, they surround our islands, preserving us from the conflicts of the world flooding across our borders. Yet they still come to us. We pray for those in Fiji and Vanuatu, our island neighbours, repairing their homes after storms. We give thanks for our defense forces lending a hand in the work of peace and security rebuilding in the islands. Strengthen the work of our hands, Lord, strengthen the work of our hands. Keep us working as good neighbours to support other nations, to hold back the storms and restore the bounty of our ocean. May the land, sea, and sky join together as our symbol of peace.

Remember those who have come to these islands as refugees, both welcome and unwelcome, scattered in different camps, different homes, different countries. We especially remember those who are coming to our city, may they be at home here, a part of lives. Let them find what is good in Dunedin – homes to live in, work to live, peace of mind and cure for the soul, an escape from vulnerable places with teeth like a shark, across hostile land and sea. Make our place a safe place both for new chums escaping violence in the homeland as well as for us who live here.

We remember our own people, present today, and in empty pews where memory is their ghost. When we are troubled, give us your heart’s ease. Heal us in body, mind and spirit. Make us to know your joy again, and let us join with those who celebrate. Jesus, teach us to party, and to celebrate as you did in the homes of the holy land. Bring us into the time of your great feast where we will party until the stars go out, and may there be cake.

Now, teach us to pray, the same words you taught your disciples to pray. We say together…

unfruitful_tree_servants_duty.jpg

The Unfruitful Fig Tree and the Servant’s Duty by Kazakhstan artist Nelly Bube, Luke 13:1-9

Je suis Charlie

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I have a pen in my pocket. There is always a pen in my pocket. I don’t like shirts without a pocket. I carry my pen in my breast pocket of my shirt. It’s one of the things I carry with me and I don’t like to leave it behind.

It’s a metal pen.  I got it for Christmas about ten years ago.  The ink is a little uneven. I need to replace the ink cartridge. The gloss has rubbed off in places on the stem so it’s beginning to look matted. The nib unscrews and I check it so often to see it hasn’t fallen apart. At the gym I carry in my pants pocket while I exercise and it is prone to fall apart then so I have to be careful.  Once I thought I had lost the nib and spring and it mysteriously turned up in another shirt.  I don’t know how that happened.

It’s a cheap metal pen I got for Christmas. I have held onto it so long it is developing its own character in my hand, its own feel. I like it.

I knew of no demonstration for the Charlie Hebdo victims this week that was local to Dunedin. For a brief moment I took that pen and held it nib upright in the air, a silent salute, to the dead.

Satire has been a part of our culture since for ever.  Ancient Greek comedy writers satirised their gods, the hypocritical cant of the puritans was a stock character for William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Voltaire wrote Candide.  Religion did not fall over because of it.  Cartoonists have parodied religion as long as I can remember: white bearded god and angels on clouds, hairy Jesus, stuffed suits in church, all stock in trade characters.  Sometimes I liked the joke.  Other times I signed and turned the page. I did not feel I needed to become a Christianist radical and kill in the name of my religion.

I haven’t investigated Charlie Hebdo.  From what I’ve seen the quality of humour I would classify as the second type, in poor taste rather than clever, intended to offend, to push the envelop rather than challenge the viewer.  What ever I think they did not deserve to die for this.  There are empty chairs at the table, empty desks in the office.  Silencing a voice has proved nothing, except that the power of the gun, used to abuse others, is evil, and bad religion.

Maybe there is a hope in this.  I think it is in the hands of Muslims who see that violence and execution is not their witness, not their faith.  Too often people react to an attrocity and say this is not our Islam, or not our Christianity, or not our secular culture.  Attrocity needs to be pre-empted by an engagement in peace and community building because this is our common witness, our civic discipleship. It is unclear if peace and affection will break out between us.  We have to break old habits of thinking, of just reacting.  We have to ride together.  The alternative is a distrust that will lead to destruction.

Here is Hope

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The Combined Dunedin Churches put on a well-attended event at the Dunedin Town Hall.  Even though I knew I would not enjoy the worship music, which would be jumping, I went to hear one of the speakers, Highlander Captain and All-Black Brad Thorn.

I stood for the songs.  Mostly I did not sing as they were unfamiliar to me.  I listened to this wall of sound around me.  I joined in when they sang a version of Thine Be the Glory, Risen Conquering Son and sang with gusto.  I used to have a version of this from a worship service from the London Proms.  Perhaps a more orchestral sound next time?

As I said, it was Brad Thorn that I had come to hear and consider.  He was interviewed on stage by a pastor.  The conversation steered away from the details of testimony and theology.  There was several references to the recent Highlanders game.  Don’t ask me about that, I’m a sports non-believer.  Thorn was not on the field during the game.

I picked up some notes from what the big man said.  He’s from a Mosgiel family, with a back-ground in one of the churches that faded away when the family moved to Australia.  His success in both Rugby League and Rugby Union made him independently wealthy and at the top of his game.  He wanted more from life and with some encouragement made a commitment to Christ.  This involved a noticeable change of nature to those around him as he “put on the Christ nature” (his choice of words).

For him being Christian is being professional.  I’m guessing this is a reference to his role as a professional sportsman.  He lives by the code of the game on the field, in his public life, and in his Christian life.  I wonder if this a return to the chivalric romance of muscular Christianity as was popular in the first half of the twentieth century, a masculine ethos to balance feminine religion.

The evening ended with a 30 minute address and altar call from retired Youth for Christ man and family councillor Ian Grant.  I left wondering what the evening had been for? And who for?  It all felt muddled.

Indigenization, Immigration, and the Cultural Reshaping of Japanese Christianity.

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A lecture for the end of the week.  I saw it on a notice board and added it to my diary.  I didn’t catch the name of the lecturer, who is now based at Auckland University after several decades observing religion in Japan at close range.  He is the son of American missionaries to Japan.

What’s to say about Japanese Christianity?  The big religions of Japan are Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism and Folk Religion.  It sounds like nobody belongs to these religions.  People drop in when they need and then go again.  Ten percent of the population take part in organised religions, small minority religions out of about 300 new religions, which include Christian sects.  Christians make up 1% of the population, 1 million people.  My reaction to that is, a national Christian community of a million people, gosh! That’s a bigger number than New Zealand.  The number in Japan might expand to 2% to include people who still hold onto a Christian sensibility from church schools and similar influences.  The average length that a Japanese Christian will be involved in church life is 2.8 years.  There’s a revolving back-do0r to church life.

Japanese Christianity experimented with creating Christian movements based on ways of being Japanese, ranging from high Confucian churches to chant-based worship.  They criticised the missionary churches as ‘smelling of butter’ or ‘hardened, frozen Christianity’ with doctrines that came from foreign churches.  After a generation of charismatic founders these movements are going into rapid decline and disappearing.

Foreign-orientated independent churches, like the Full Gospel Church from South Korea, and the Universal Church of God from Brazil, are growing in Japan.  Korea has an energetic Christian market which is pushing outwards into Japan and around the globe.  They are church-planting in Japan, a situation where the Co-Prosperity Sphere is striking back.  These churches are more attractive to Korean migrants in Japan than to the Japanese population to whom they are trying to evangelise.

At the same time the church is also growing in China as the population moves into cities in huge numbers.  There are more Christians in China than in Europe on a Sunday.  Whether they can continue to grow to become statistically significant waits to be seen.  The trend could make China like South Korea and the Philippines which has big Christian populations, or like Japan and Taiwan where Christianity remains a religion from outside.

At the same time the Catholic Church in Japan is affected that it is coping with a migrant community coming from traditionally Catholic countries, such as Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.  Nominally Catholic in their home countries they are looking for communities in Japan with which to make contact.  These churches are moving from declining numbers and closing churches to including multi-cultural congregations with their own practices, including recognising Lord of Miracles Brotherhoods and El Shaddai Brotherhoods.  These congregations are challenged.  They wait to see if this will be a continuing challenge.

Seeking the Welfare of the City: The Contribution of Theology to New Zealand’s Public Square

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This was the farewell address given by Andrew Bradstock before returning to Britain.  Andrew has been the first professor of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in Dunedin.  It has proven to be a successful appointment which has placed the Centre directly in the public domain.  He was applauded twice before he spoke and then twice after he finished.

The title comes from the prophetic writings.  Interestingly enough the admonition is to the believers living in the exile.

Some thoughts:

Where is New Zealand’s public square?  What voices does the public square engage?  The whole point of deliberative democracy is that is it based on the idea of deliberation. Let New Zealanders decide who these voices are.  New religions are going to step in and be heard in New Zealand. Do we welcome them as citizens or do we label them as the Other and the Outsider.  Can we grow an enlarged and diverse public sphere?

Religion is an option against an ideology of self-interest.  Our theology is based on god living as the incarnation, giving value to human and natural life.  All people are created in the image of god.

The market cannot make a moral judgment on sex trade or the trade in body-parts.  They are just another commodity.  I admit I am suspicious of anyone who uses the phrase ‘the sanctity of life’, what does that mean in a society with no definition of sanctity.  However what is the value of a human life?  Why do members of society say at a certain point embryonic human potential has value and after that point, until its natural death, it may not be killed?  What is the value of life beyond sanctity?

The story of Eden speaks profoundly to us. [Edit: I have separated this line from the previous paragraph as it not related to it as a conclusion to it and refers to another quote made by Andrew Bradstock.]

Each speaker has a right to speak.  It is up to each one of us not to dominate the narrative or stand on privilege.

God in the Art Gallery: artist’s images of Jesus and the anti-ascension of the Christ

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Much to Jason’s horror I took some notes of his talk on images of Jesus from the Roman Empire to the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Apparently he paints as well as does poetry.  A man of many talents is our Jason.

The anti-ascension of the Christ sounds like Jesus trips and falls flat on his face which would be the point of The Virgin Spanking the Christ-Child Before Three Witnesses.

The Virgin Spanking The Christ Child Before Three Witnesses by Max Ernst

The witnesses seem unconcerned to this child abuse going on before them.

We make the Christ into our own image in each generation.  When we encounter the stranger god he becomes a reflection of our own imagination.  When we portray the Christ, we must slay it!  In Roman times the Christ was the emperor, or a sage, in a toga, a citizen of Empire in a costume that had already become old-fashioned.  Another generation and he had become the Christian Soldier in a centurion’s leathers, bearing the cross like a sword and the Bible as the shield of faith.

It is a small step from these images to the icons of Greek and Russian Churches.  The Trinity is dancing in each other’s way.  The Cross is the Axis of the World from god and the angels in heaven breaking through Adam’s skull into hell.  Christ is on the Cross but does not suffer.  He seems impatient or bored.  The pain of Christ on the Cross is most strongly expressed through images of liberation theology because Christ the image of the poor is crucified daily.

The Chocolate Christ

This is my body, indeed!

The Lonely Christ c. 1520

He looks sad.  I understand that visitors respond emotionally to this sculpture.  I think he is sitting on the toilet.  A lot of people go there when they are sad and want to be left alone!

And speaking about toilet stops…

Piss Christ

Christ enters post-Christianity.  He is caught in the golden light of degraded matter.  The crucified one enters into our own suffering and persecution yet again.  Perhaps as Christ continues to fall on his face in this descending into art he will continue to inspire new and beautiful imagery.

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