Christians need more than tolerance


The Government intends to make no changes to the exemptions for religious organisations in employing people. Today the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace boasted that the Prime Minister told him that she will not change these exemptions. Hardly something to boast about: the idea that the churches have a right to discriminate is arrogant and disappointing.

Secular views on tolerance may seem closer to a genuine Christian position. Jeff Sparrow assumes that the exemption is essentially against homosexuals in religious schools and hospitals. This commentator notes, “What message does this legislative loophole send, other than that discrimination against gays and lesbians doesn’t matter as much as other forms of bigotry? It’s a statement that homophobia is still OK; that gays and lesbians can still be bullied and harassed, in a way that wouldn’t be tolerated in respect of anyone else.” (Jeff Sparrow, “Religious Freedom Beats Your Rights at Work”, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4467310.html?WT.svl=theDrum, 16 January 2013.)

Many Christians have more sympathy for this than for Mr Wallace’s position. But for Christians it is essentially an empty position; a position which is nothing more than opposition to the ACL and groups like it.

I believe that churches should aspire to a higher standard than the community’s. Jesus included the unacceptable, the unclean and the immoral: the women who had had five relationships, the Roman centurion (and his ambiguously described ‘lad’), tax collectors and prostitutes. We should actively embrace many more people than a typical corporation.  Mr Wallace believes some people should be excluded. I cannot defend that view. But Mr Sparrow’s view that no-one should be excluded comes nowhere near the Gospel paradigm that everyone should be included.

St Francis embraces the leper

That there should be no discrimination is a secular standard, the best we can agree on in a diverse society. But the Church seeking to include every last person requires much more moral effort, and indeed, demands that we be receptive to much more of God’s grace.

We Christians should welcome any move to remove the exemptions for religious organisations. The church should be pleased in this case to submit to secular virtue.

Whether or not the law changes, Christian employers should choose to act according to higher standards and be as inclusive as possible. Of course, the specifics of each employment decision do not simply flow automatically from the principle of maximum inclusion; Christian employers must still wrestle with CVs and references to match the best person for each job. But I believe maximum inclusion is closer to the Gospel, and will be seen in our complex society as closer to the Gospel. We Christians are not merely tolerant, as the Government claims to be; we follow the Lord who is “loving unto every man and woman”. (Psalm 145:9)

Life After


Life after

I stand heart-still on bush-edge trail.
My height nothing next to bunched boughs
of sage green gums.  The great wedge-tail
eagle soars: all before it stoops, bows.

The eye zooms: the bird has stalled:
gravity forgot; upheld by thermal.
All potential at rest, just the air mauled
by fierce talons; wings held formal.

Then, straight down from pin-head highs
the eagle drops, wings tucked, a grey stone-streak.
The lizard struck and killed, in cold eye’s

wink.  Wings wide as Passion Week.
For all of us in God’s surprise
are taken alive in Christ’s dear beak.

The Parable


THE PARABLE

 

How sad the sower —
the thrower
of seed.
In bonding for ever
in life
is his need.
Yet the task
the Father asks
is to throw
Far from his heart
to death to part,
and perchance not grow.
It’s utter folly
to risk losing love
and throw life away.
Yet the melancholy
Jewish raconteur
enjoins you and me
to lose all,
and in the losing
not to know
if the prize is yours.

Ted Witham

 

 

 

Christ’s truth


The truth about Christ

 

They wanted a Christ to blaze out the Romans,
a warrior, a men amongst men, a giant.
A Christ to right all wrongs, to fight all omens,
To end all nightmares, ultimately defiant.

 

They wanted a Christ who was nice to people,
a yes-man, a crowd-pleaser, indiscriminately tolerant.
A Christ to suit the moment, a respectable sample,
To grace society, selectively competent.

 

They wanted a Christ who hated their foes,
on our side, a party man, with the vision of a tunnel.
A Christ to back our bias, who our way goes,
To be our justification, an upside-down funnel.

 

Jesus lives with an all-blazing love,
a heart saturated with God and endless understanding.
A cruel cross joining below with above,
To be our other side, our way to God’s landing.

 

© Ted Witham, 1998

 

 

Emerging Butterfly?


Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, Paraclete Press 2006. E-Book 2012

Reviewed by

Ted Witham

The key idea of How (Not) to Speak of God is that many Christians in the “Emergent Church” movement embrace paradox. The first few chapters unpack the implicit idea in the title: that the moment we speak of God, we deny who God is. All attempts to define or describe the Christian God are doomed.

This is, of course, not a new idea, but it is unusual for evangelical Christians to push the point as hard as Rollins does. Essentially, Christians are atheists, because our God is beyond human category. At best, we can glimpse God in icons which often appear to point away from the reality of God, but which express metaphors that are self-consciously metaphors and not definitions.

Christians are defined not so much by what they believe as by how they believe; and this dynamic faith will manifest in works of mercy and restorative justice in the real world.

The second part of this encouraging book is a series of liturgies designed by the house church in the Menagerie Bar, the pub that Rollins calls his spiritual home. The themes range from Judas to Corpus Christi to Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani. The description of each liturgy is preceded by a reflection introducing the theme. The liturgies emphasise imagination and emotion and are described in practical detail, so that readers could use them as they are, or adapt them for their own setting.

If this is the coming, emerging church, then I would not mind belonging.

A human trinity


It’s Trinity Sunday again. I regard this feast as a tipping point in the church’s year. It’s our last chance until Advent Sunday to celebrate the life of God, God’s coming in Jesus Christ, and God’s ongoing presence in Holy Spirit. From Trinity Sunday on, we turn green and turn our attention to growing in the grace of Holy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday then marks a turn from God to humanity. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God as Three and God as One.  We know that though God’s Threeness and Oneness may be logically incompatible, they say something important about God.

Trinity Sunday sends us back to the beginning. And for us humans, the beginning is described in Genesis 1 and 2. We humans, we are told, are made in the image of God. If God is Three and God is One, then there is also an aspect of our lives that make us a Trinity too.
Saint Augustine of Hippo
The great African Saint Augustine of Hippo taught that human beings are three in one. We are made, Augustine said, of
memory,
will, and
love.

As far as we know, human beings are the only creatures who have a past to remember. Our memories are vital to us. We often hear people say that if their house were burning down, the first thing they would rescue would be their photo albums, because ‘they contain our memories’. Our memories, we say, make us who we are.

We are also the only creatures with a sense of the future, and the knowledge that, through our  wills, we can affect the future. Our will partly determines the experiences we will have from this point on. Our will and our desires are deep parts of ourselves.

But memories can be bitter. Good times of the past can be locked up by our sinful actions. To be truly human, we need more than memories: we need love. Love will lead us to be grateful for our memories. Love will empower us to forgive and be forgiven, so that our memories will shine with goodness.

The future can be uncertain. We can be horrified that our wilful actions can turn out to be destructive. At the same time, we know how little effect our wills have on the future. We can live in fear of what is going to happen. So our will needs to be coloured by love too. Love will give us the grace to will that which is good. Love will give us the confidence to go on in faith rather than in fear.

Love is what makes us truly human. It is the jigsaw piece that fits in between our memory and our will.

In the Creed each week we make the amazing affirmation that in Jesus, God became “truly human.”.Jesus carries in him the memory of all our pasts. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has opened up for us a future that is life and not death, glory and not shame. His love, memory and will, makes him truly human too, and makes us like God, “partakers in God’s nature”.

So let us celebrate the human trinity of memory, will and love. They are a way to God.

Ted Witham

First posted at Dunsborough Anglican Church (St George’s).

Changing the World – Charles Dickens



Happy 200th Birthday, Mr Dickens.

Dickens’s reach is amazing: there would be few people alive who have not read a Dickens novel or seen an adaptation for film or stage of one of his stories. The characters of Oliver Twist (‘Please, sir, I want some more’) and A Christmas Carol, Scrooge and Tiny Tim have become part of the language.

Charles Dickens was a social reformer. He believed that he could use his fiction to bring change. I was surprised when I re-read Oliver Twist recently by the anger Dickens expresses, not so much at the poverty that children (and others) experience, but by the two facts that some middle class people couldn’t care less about poverty and that others actively exploit the poor. Dickens describes the parish system with its beadles and work-houses in the most negative terms.

Dickens did not restrict his social reforming to fiction and journalism. As he became rich, he was generous to individuals, not only giving them money, but also providing ongoing personal support for them. With the fabulously wealthy Miss Coutts he founded a Home for Fallen Women to rehabilitate prostitutes and equip them for a good life in Canada or Australia.

I’m really enjoying Claire Tomalin’s new Charles Dickens: a life, which you can borrow through the public library system.

Dickens had a conventional belief in God. He probably attended church only for weddings and funerals. It would be wrong for us Christians to claim Dickens as some kind of saint: the 19th Century did produce saints who were inspired by their Christian faith to battle poverty and injustice. Charles Kingsley and Elizabeth Fry come to mind; as does Florence Nightingale, who though a highly unconventional Christian, was deeply inspired by John’s Gospel.

However, I believe as Christians we are called to work with not only other Christians in the fight against injustice, but also to work alongside others engaged in similar work. In this light, we can celebrate Charles Dickens, social reformer, as one who translated his outrage at the treatment of the vulnerable into real change. Dickens made the world a better place, and if we hear his anger now as we read his novels, his influence can continue.

Vignette III of Peace


VIGNETTE III OF PEACE

The email screamed, “Nine thousand Muslims are coming! Keep them out of our Christian country! They will pervert our children and destroy our way of life.”

The chaplain should not have forwarded the email to me, her boss, whether or not she knew my views on immigration and on Islam.

I should have ignored it.

But I had a gnawing unease. Unless I did something about it, I would go on thinking that way about that chaplain. She had lost my respect, and it was important for me to restore it.

I started refuting the email line by line. Bad plan. That made me angry and made me write angrily. That way inflamed the situation. My first intuition to ignore the email had reason. I stopped writing. I waited a day. I prayed.

Then I wrote back to her, “I am sorry I cannot agree with your email,” I said, “but is it not possible that God wants 9,000 Muslims to come to Australia so that we can share our Christian faith with them?” I sent the email and waited two days.

She sent one more email, “I hadn’t thought of that. You may be right.” And then she apologised, “I am sorry I sent you that email without thinking first.”

Next time I saw her, I thanked her publicly for the commendable work she was doing in a difficult school. In praising her, I felt good about myself.