The Gifts of Advent 3: WHOLENESS

The Gifts of Advent 3: WHOLENESS

[This is the third in a four-part series on the gifts of Advent. The first post explored BEAUTY and in the second I looked at JUSTICE]   Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. ~ Leonard Cohen The song Anthem first appeared on Leonard Cohen’s 1992 album, The Future, and quickly became one of his most enduring and oft-quoted lyrics. Typical of Cohen’s work, it contains allusions to his Jewish background, as well as references to the Buddhist religion of his adulthood and the Christian faith that continued to intrigue him. These are the words of a man searching for human wholeness. It’s this, the healing and renewal of human beings, and indeed all of creation, that I want to explore in this post. Wholeness is the third gift of Advent.   RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING When Cohen calls on us to ring the bells that still can ring, he’s urging us to keep searching for the holy, to not give up the hope that there is healing in the offing. In his book Diamonds in the Line, he wrote of this lyric, I mean, you have to come up with a philosophical ground. We’re in a dismal situation… and the future

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The Gifts of Advent 2: JUSTICE

The Gifts of Advent 2: JUSTICE

[This is the second in a four-part series looking at the gifts given to us in the coming of Jesus. The first gift I explored was BEAUTY. You can read it here.]   One of the most powerful ways to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. ~ Tim Keller   In his first advent Jesus promised justice for the oppressed, something that will be ultimately and completely dispensed in his second advent. In this vein, at Christmas we often hear preachers refer to the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, such as those in Isaiah 9: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isa 9:6-7) The first advent of King Jesus heralds the establishment of a just and equitable kingdom of God on earth. NT Wright calls it “…the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor.” He continues, Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way

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The Gifts of Advent 1: BEAUTY

The Gifts of Advent 1: BEAUTY

Beauty – Katrina Lambert Beauty lives In the hollow of the itch you can’t reach. Its first gift is a jolt of recognition – A reflection of something Deep and hidden within us.  Beauty lies In the stitched line of the horizon. Its second gift is the joy of communion – A joining of our inner world  With the boundless sky of billions of heavenly bodies. Beauty inhabits A time beyond time. Its third gift is the glory of eternity – As we are pulled through a pinhole in the present To the infinite beyond that is our true home coming.   The best poetry doesn’t need analysis, but the author of this poem is also a preacher and her thoughts on beauty are as sharp as they are splendid. Katrina Lambert recounts the three gifts of beauty and I want to use her thoughts to explore beauty as a gift in itself, that is, as a gift of God, given in the first advent of Christ and promised in his second.   1. THE JOLT OF RECOGNITION According to Lambert, beauty presents us with that taste of something delicious we’ve been hungering for, or as she describes it “a reflection of something / Deep and hidden within us”. When we encounter beauty it tugs at our spirit. It triggers a sense

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Advent – you might be doing it wrong

Advent – you might be doing it wrong

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya   In recent years, even the most non-liturgical branches of the church, those who usually recoil against anything that even smacks of ritualism, have discovered the Christian season of Advent. But typical of someone a bit late to the party, many of them seem to have missed the memo on what it actually means. Contrary to all the Baptist and evangelical websites proclaiming that Advent is all about “getting ready for Christmas”, the season has a far richer meaning, one usually entirely overlooked by low churches. The word itself is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming,” but the coming that we celebrate during Advent isn’t just Jesus’ first arrival as the babe of Bethlehem. Advent is the time to also focus on Jesus’ second coming. Advent is a four-week season, usually beginning on the last Sunday in November (this year it begins on Dec 3) and ending on Christmas Eve, where we celebrate the revelation of God in Christ, through whom all of creation might be reconciled to God. The First Advent of Christ inaugurates that reconciliation, a process in which we now participate. And the Second Advent signals its consummation, something we anticipate. Participation and anticipation are

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Nonviolence is our Strength: bringing justice and power together

Nonviolence is our Strength: bringing justice and power together

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just. ~ Pascal   This week I participated in another nonviolent direct action (NvDA) to highlight my government’s mistreatment of hundreds of asylum seekers under their jurisdiction. Along with several other Christian leaders, I chained myself to the gates of the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence and refused to leave when instructed to by Australian federal police. We were eventually cut free by Police Search & Rescue and arrested for trespass. It wasn’t the first time I’d been arrested for such an action, and inevitably my decision to participate in it has attracted criticism from some Christians who believe it is wrong to disobey our political and legal authorities. But nonviolent direct action is, in my opinion, an entirely Christian act. NvDA refers to any method of protest, resistance, or intervention without physical violence in which the members of the nonviolent group do, or refuse to do, certain things. Other names for it are people power, civil resistance, satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, pacifica militancia, positive action, and more. When Christians undertake an NvDA we are rejecting the use of physical violence to fight injustice because we know that violence cannot be overcome by more violence.   As followers of the Prince

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Doing what we should have always been doing

Doing what we should have always been doing

When Danica Roem became the first transgender person elected to a state legislature in Virginia last month, there was outrage from some sectors of the American church. One affronted church leader tweeted, “Christian parents, the nation’s first transgender elected official enters American history tonight. What are you doing to prepare your children for that?” In response, bestselling author and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown tweeted:   We’re doing what we should have always been doing: loving God and loving others. But are we? Is that what we’ve been doing, because if it isn’t, I suggest the church should get back to it. In my homeland of Australia, we recently had a national survey on the question as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalized by the parliament. There was a hard-fought campaign waged on both sides of that debate. It wasn’t always very pretty or edifying. In the end, the Yes vote romped it in – 61.6% to 38.4%.  For some perspective, if a federal election was won by that margin it would be the most comprehensive landslide in Australia’s history. As a result, many church leaders are asking a similar question to the one we began with here: what are we doing to prepare ourselves for being the church in the new era of Australian society in which

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Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Why is it that the people most likely to demand that we “keep Christ in Christmas” seem to know so little about the historical birth of Jesus! If they did, they would have no sentimental attachment to traditional nativity scenes and they definitely wouldn’t want to have them placed in centers of commercialism like shopping malls. This isn’t so much to grouse about the chintz and cheesiness of traditional Christmas celebrations as it is to bemoan the widespread ignorance of the gospel story by the very followers of Jesus.   If you knew and believed the story of Christ, you’d know a trad nativity scene is a cartoonish representation of what really happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. This was highlighted for me again when I read about Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defending the actions of senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of initiating several sexual encounters with teenage girls, including one who was only fourteen, when he was in his thirties. Ziegler’s justification for Moore’s behavior was breathtaking (and not in a good way): “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Aside from the reprehensible action of using the gospel

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A sign pointing to God

A sign pointing to God

In his best-known book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of an isolated jungle village called Macondo in which the entire population has become infected with insomnia and associated amnesia. To avoid forgetting important things, the inhabitants begin labeling everything. One of the first signs they erect reads, “God exists”. But the main protagonist José Arcadio Buendía begins to dread what will happen when the Macondans have even forgotten how to read. He sets to work trying to make a daguerreotype (photograph) of God, to prove His existence and help everyone not to forget Him. I fear we live in a similar time. Our culture is in danger of forgetting that God exists.   But God’s intention was that the church would be the sign that would help people never to forget. This is why some people talk about the church being “the hope of the world.” Technically, the church isn’t the hope of the world – Christ is (Col.1:27). But the church is the sign, the last hope for a world suffering from spiritual amnesia, saying “God exists.” Sadly, while José Arcadio Buendía’s fear was that his village would forget how to read, ours might be that our neighbors can read only too well. When they look at the contemporary church, instead of reading “God

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The Impunity of Male Power

The Impunity of Male Power

Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Dustin Hoffman. Bill O’Reilly. Jeremy Piven. Brett Ratner. James Toback. George H W Bush. Hamilton Fish. Black, white, straight, gay, the one thing they all have in common is they are men. They are men who have either admitted to or been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. And they are powerful men in their respective fields who believed they could assault or harass others with impunity. The recent stories of actor Kevin Spacey routinely groping and soliciting men (one a boy of 14) reveal the true nature of these cases. A member of the Old Vic theatre company, where Kevin Spacey was artistic director, has claimed that everyone knew Spacey was a serial offender. He simply groped whoever he wanted to, whenever he wanted. And nobody said anything. Bill Cosby’s criminal activity is another case in point. Nearly 50 women have claimed he sexually assaulted them over a 40 year period across 10 US states. And Donald Trump’s pre-election boast that he could “move on” any woman he wanted was explained by him because “…when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” This included his notorious comment that he could even grab women’s genitals without repercussion. So while these assaults might have been sexual in

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Why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy!

Why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy!

It’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more – than that. ~ Chally Kacelnik   In my previous blog I identified how our culture is shaped by patriarchy and how Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God totally subverts the patriarchal system. But I didn’t offer much practical advice on how to actually do that, so a few male readers asked me for a follow up article. I’ve read a few posts recently, offering advice on how to move forward on this, and gleaned ideas from a few sources. Here are some suggestions. After all, why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy! 1. Take seriously the fact that Jesus instituted a new family of God, one that included Gentiles, foreigners, widows and orphans. This isn’t to say he rejected the Jewish understanding of marriage. Actually he reinforces the sanctity of marriage in his teaching on divorce. But he sees marriage operating within a broader, new context, a

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#MeToo: Don’t just say sorry, smash the patriarchy!

#MeToo: Don’t just say sorry, smash the patriarchy!

Following the allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, women who have been sexually harassed have been tweeting or posting the hashtag “Me too” to show the mind-blowing magnitude of sexual assault. And men are also showing they are prepared to listen and believe the women who report harassment and assault, and to say they’re sorry for the abuse they’ve experienced. It feels like a new day is dawning, a day in which men are finally acknowledging the scale of sexism and mistreatment perpetrated against women. This week, Christian blogger John Pavlovitz, speaking for all men, wrote, We are the other side of the #MeToo stories. We are the writers of these awful stories. It’s time we owned this sickness. It’s time we stopped it. But I wonder whether mere acknowledgement is enough. Will anything substantive change while ever we operate in a patriarchal system like ours?   WHAT IS PATRIARCHY? It’s not just that our society is male-dominated, or that most of our politicians and CEOs are men. And it’s not just about the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling. These things are symptoms of a more pervasive system called patriarchy. We live in a patriarchy because our society has been shaped by European culture, which was organized around the centrality of paternity. The lineage of the great houses

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Do you have a radical Christian faith or just a radicalized one?

Do you have a radical Christian faith or just a radicalized one?

After a terrorist attack in the West, it’s not uncommon to hear the parents of the attacker reveal how shocked they were to discover their son or daughter had become radicalized via the Internet. Muslim families are regularly counselled to put in place safeguards to ensure that the process of radicalization doesn’t take root with their children. But radicalization isn’t only a Muslim issue. You and I need to be aware of what radicalization is and how to avoid it, not because it will necessarily lead us to commit acts of terror, but because it monkeys with our capacity for empathy and morality. Earlier this year I heard a stimulating paper on the Internet as a 4th Space presented by Jessie Cruickshank. She has a Harvard degree in neuroscience and is particularly interested in how brain development is affected by our screens. She began by pointing to a number of studies that have shown that there is an inverse relationship between screen time and empathy. In other words, the more time you spend looking at a screen (texting and on social media) the less importance you place on moral, ethical and spiritual goals. Higher texting frequency was also consistently associated with higher levels of ethnic prejudice. Jessie Cruickshank writes, “Part of the struggle with the high engagement of social media

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