Advent Reflection 1: Like a kick in the guts

Advent Reflection 1: Like a kick in the guts

I will be posting two Advent reflections each week this season. They will each be based on one of the 10 greatest paintings of the Christmas story ever produced.  I trust you find them life-giving and hope-enlarging. Look carefully at the painting above. Examine every section. Explore the artist’s design. What do you see? Now read the Bible text. Then read my reflection below. Each reflection will end with a beautiful prayer for you to recite.   1 THE ANNUNCIATION   Artwork: The Annunciation – Fra Angelico, Convent of San Marco, Florence Reading: Luke 1:26-38 Reflection: Look at Mary. Look closely at her. She looks exquisite. Her hands folded across her belly. Her figure slightly bent. Her face passive and staring. She looks like she’s in shock, as if she’s just been hit by something in the very center of her being. Like she’s been kicked in the guts. The painter, Fra Angelico, a Florentine monk, depicts Mary as if she has conceived her child at the exact moment the angel’s word is spoken. Just as the world was created by God’s spoken word in Genesis, so the Incarnation is initiated by the angel’s word. The word gives life. The virgin is with child. The Christ is coming. And Mary receives it all exactly the way we should all receive this revelation:

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Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

My mother died last week. She was 85 years old and frail. We’d watched her slowly diminish over recent years, like a flame tapering ever smaller. On her last day, that flame barely flickered at all until at the very end it gently extinguished itself. It was peaceful and natural, and she was surrounded by those who loved her. One of the nurses who was present told me it was a “good death”. I spent her last day with her, sitting on her bed or beside her, telling her she wasn’t alone, that we were there and that we wouldn’t leave until she was gone. She wouldn’t have to make that transition alone. At one point, I was alone with her for several hours, speaking to her, praying for her, reciting Scripture and singing hymns. During that time a nurse’s aid knocked on the door and entered reverently. She whispered that she was finishing her shift and wanted to say goodbye. Everyone knew my mother wouldn’t make it through the night. I’d met her before and seen her often on my visits to my mother’s nursing home. She’d delivered my mother’s meals or cleaned her bathroom. Her name was Naomi. She sat on my mother’s bed and took her head in her hands and kissed her gently on her cheek.

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Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

I’ve been involved in my fair share of public demonstrations. I’ve protested against my government’s decisions on a number of issues. I’ve marched against war and in favor of Aboriginal reconciliation, climate change policy and nuclear disarmament. I’ve been arrested for refusing to vacate the Prime Minister’s office while praying for asylum seekers. I’m a citizen of a modern liberal democracy and I have no compunction about expressing my resistance to my elected government’s policies. And yet, at various points, I’ve had well-meaning Christian friends quote Romans 13 to me and tell me I should be acquiescent to those God puts in authority over me. You can read the whole chapter here, but this is how it begins, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1) Paul, the writer of Romans, then goes on to commend the church not to stir up trouble against their rulers. In fact, he’s quite adamant about it, compelling them, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” (Rom 13:3) In other

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7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

We come to the last of our 7 Broken Men and I’m going to take a somewhat more serious tone with this one. Recent blog posts in this series have been presented with a lighter touch as we’ve noted the way our broken men have been used by God for the greater good. And while some of them did inflict suffering on others, their offences were long ago, making it easier to wave off the excesses of those trapped in the long distant past. But now we come to the most troubling entry in our series, John Howard Yoder. He has hurt people. Many people. All of them women, in fact.   And he did so relatively recently. Many of Yoder’s victims are still with us, although he isn’t. God certainly used him. Powerfully. He is one of the primary thought leaders behind the modern Anabaptist movement. His teaching on the church, social justice and pacifism, peacemaking and capital punishment have filtered into both the mainstream evangelical and progressive evangelical movements. True to his Mennonite roots, Yoder called on the church to resist the temptation to try to take over politics and society (remember, this was the era of the Christian Coalition). Instead, he argued, the primary responsibility of Christians is faithful presence, ie. “to be the church.” That meant that the church’s role was to

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7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

So far (if you’ve been following along) we’ve discovered that some of the greatest movements of Christianity – Calvinism, Pentecostalism, the Great Century of missions, the Jesus Revolution, and the Australian Baptist church – were all launched by broken men. Welcome to the sixth of our 7 Broken Men, at the raffish Spanish courtier, Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola, better known as St Ignatius of Loyola. Iñigo de Loyola was actually physically broken. A French cannonball had shattered his leg while he was defending the fortress town of Pamplona in 1521. The broken leg was not properly set, leaving the protruding bone to create an ugly lump under the skin. Iñigo was vain. He was also quite the ladies’ man. So he insisted on having the leg re-broken and re-set. Without anesthetic, of course. The injured leg ended up shorter than the other, so the once-dashing Iñigo limped for the rest of his life. That was no small thing for Iñigo. He had grown up in the castle of Loyola, the 13th child of Don Beltrán Yañez de Oñaz y Loyola, a brash, free-spirited womanizer who had fathered several children by other women. Iñigo’s grandfather was an even more shadowy character, regularly in conflict with the crown. Nonetheless, they were landed gentry and could get away with bad behavior.

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