Category Archives: Mission

Sanctuary—Christendom Again? Some Reflections

Last week church leaders all over Australia began to offer sanctuary in their church buildings to 267 people seeking asylum whom the government is planning to deport to the detention centre on Nauru. The offers have increased in number over the weekend, and it is now approaching 50 congregations involved.

One blogger suggested this offer was, “Invoking a practice from the Middle Ages during the height of Christendom.” His comment reflects numerous criticisms that have appeared on social media. So, is the Christian invocation of sanctuary an appeal to a dying age of Christendom?

I don’t take these critiques lightly—after all, I am an Anabaptist. But critiquing particular acts of churches and Christians as being rooted in Christendom is fraught with difficulty. “Christendom” is a complex reality, denoting multiple dimensions of a lengthy historical situation. It can simply refer to those lands in which Christianity was dominant from Constantine, through the Medieval period, up until the present day. It might also refer to those arrangements between the church and state during this period that bestowed on the church a privileged status in society.

Is sanctuary a product of this latter definition of Christendom simply because it arose during the height of Christendom? Read the rest of this entry

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beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 4)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.

These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?

OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire![1] Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.

If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?

I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry

jesus the gardener: an easter sunday reflection

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalenewent and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

It is far too easy for us to overlook seemingly minor details in the biblical text. Perhaps this happens because we have become overfamiliar with the stories and no longer read them carefully, or because we have not been trained to pick up on subtlety.

Whatever the case, in John’s account of the Resurrection story such subtlety is apparent, though we must pay careful attention to perceive it.

Recounting the day of the Resurrection John opens his story, “Now on the first day of the week.”

Of what does that remind you in earlier biblical tradition? Read the rest of this entry

could donating your stuff to the poor do more harm than good?

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

In the last few days my Facebook Wall has been filled with links to a certain organisation which promises to match every pair of shoes bought with a pair delivered to a poor child overseas.

No doubt those beautiful people who post these links have the best of intentions, and really want to do what they can to help out those who are less fortunate.

Nonetheless we need to think clearly and critically about what kind of initiatives we support, lest we do more harm than good.

The organisation described above by no means marks a new phenomenon – lots of organisations and campaigns provide ways for people to donate goods, both new and used, to less fortunate people in situations of poverty. No doubt a child with shoes is better off than a child without them. Same goes for a shirt or school supplies. It can’t be denied that enterprises which facilitate these donations do good things.

But is the good outweighed by harmful side effects?

Sticking with the example of shoes, there are numerous issues. Perhaps the most crucial is Read the rest of this entry

“enough is enough”: walter brueggemann on abundance and scarcity

Below is an article by Walter Brueggemann entitled “Enough is Enough”. Brueggemann is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, prolific author and a prophetic voice in a world dying for lack of imagination. I don’t normally post exterior articles, but this is more than worth the exception.

Source: The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.

Enough is Enough

“In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
by Walter Brueggemann

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.

But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be? The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space. An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have. In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it. Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without. Read the rest of this entry

“there’s always hope!”: pete seeger on hope for peace

From Fr. John Dear in his book Put Down Your Sword:

For years, one of my friends, the legendary folksinger Pete Seeger, has questioned friends and audiences who feel hopeless. “In the early 1970s,” he asks, “did you ever expect to see President Nixon resign because of Watergate?”

“No,” people answer.

“Did you ever expect to see the Pentagon leave Vietnam the way it did?”

“No, we didn’t,” everyone answers.

“In the 1980s, did you expect to see the Berlin Wall come down so peacefully?” Pete asks.

“No, never,” they respond.

“In the 1990s, did you expect to see Nelson Mandela released from prison, apartheid abolished, and Mandela become president of South Africa?”

“Never in a million years.”

“Did you ever expect the two warring sides of Northern Ireland to sign a peace agreement on Good Friday?”

“Never.”

“If you can’t predict those things,” Pete concludes, “don’t be so confident that there’s no hope! There’s always hope!”

We do not know what the future will bring. We cannot see where the road is leading. We know the sufferings, wars, and injustices tearing us apart, but we do not know the outcome. And so we cannot presume that there is no hope of a new world of peace.

We only know our mission, our vocation, our duty is to proclaim God’s reign of peace and resist the anti-reign of war.

We know that the God of peace is alive and active among the struggling people of the world. We know that if we repent of our violence and take up God’s way of nonviolence, the world can be transformed into a haven of harmony for everyone. We know that if we stay on the road to peace, one day we will enter God’s house of peace and meet the God of peace face-to-face.

The key, then, is to remain faithful to the journey of peace, to take the next step on the path of nonviolence, to join hands with one another and walk forward with hope.

I regularly need to be reminded…

MCA

“the sun is squashing us”: caley’s story from kenya

Below is a story from a friend named Caley. Caley is 17 and just finished school. She also just went on a trip to Western Kenya as part of one of TEAR Australia’s Development Educations Experience Programs (DEEPs). Caley writes:

We went to learn about what effective development looks like, and to meet people whose lives have been changed by the programs that TEAR supports. One of the things many Kenyans said to me while I was there, was to tell Australians about their story when I returned. I want to do that now!

Below she recounts a story that relates to climate change and its effects on the poor in Kenya. I hope you find this story as moving and challenging as I did. (Note: this story is unedited.)

Sitting under a tree, on the dusty earth, were four Kenyan men. On a small solar powered radio they were listening to a sermon. We were on a tour of the village and we stopped to talk to them. It was the words of one of these men that changed my perceptions about climate change, and deeply convicted me about the action I need to take against it.

I did not catch the name of the eldest man under the tree. I remember his words though: “The sun is squashing us” he said. “We pray for rain and it feels like the devil replies”. Read the rest of this entry

art and envisioning a new world

In the last few weeks I’ve been studying early Jewish apocalypticism. Perhaps the best known apocalypse is an early Christian text, the Book of Revelation, with a close second being a Jewish apocalypse, the Book of Daniel.

One of the things I have been convinced of is, in simple terms, the intention of apocalyptic authors to shift the symbolic universe of their readers. In short this means changing the lens through which readers view things, helping them imagine a better world. In terms of the early Jewish apocalyptic texts this looked like composing a transcendent narrative that inspired hope and resistance in the face of oppressive foreign empires.

This has got me thinking (again) about the place of other forms of art in encouraging resistance to evil and inspiring social change.

In order to remain committed to change in the world people need constant inspiration – without it their ability to envision a better world diminishes. Art has a transcendent, even mysterious, potential to energise us by critiquing the current reality, or imagining a new one.

Father John Dear (whose book Put Down Your Sword I have been reading devotionally for some time) says this: Read the rest of this entry

the best ways to fight poverty – really???: a response to mark galli

The following post is a response to an article in Christianity Today entitled “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really” by Mark Galli (editor). It is worth reading Mark’s article before launching into mine.

The Better Ways to Fight Poverty – Really: A Response to Mark Galli

In Christianity Today’s February issue Cover Story, “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really“, Mark Galli offers a thought-provoking sketch of the current state of global poverty and a generous critique of action on poverty within the Church.

Galli’s insights, however, are undermined by a number of critical flaws, notably his understanding of development, global poverty trends and the intersection of eschatology and Christian and ecclesial practice. Perhaps most concerning is Galli’s interpretation of poverty and Christian action within the biblical narrative.

There is no doubting Galli’s concern for Christians to engage with the poor. “It would be foolish to stop caring for the poor,” he says, “We are not called to obey Jesus only if our efforts are guaranteed to make a difference.” To that I say, Amen.

Galli, however, goes on to suggest that such Christian engagement with the poor is meant to be personal, in the sense that it should not attempt to go beyond the level of individual charity into the realm of “national and global initiatives”. In other words, Galli does not believe it is the task of the Church to attempt to end poverty, but merely to bind the wounds of those who must endure it. Read the rest of this entry

wittenberg remixed: nailing some more theses?

Did you know that today (31st October) is the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517.*

These theses largely protested clerical abuses in the Catholic Church at the time, in particular the dealing of indulgences and issues around papal authority.

e.g. Thesis 86:

“Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus,** build the basilica of Saint Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”

This event is thought by many to have been the initial spark for the Protestant Reformation. Read the rest of this entry

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