|Pen and Ink Reflections||
‘Cheer, cheer, the red and the white/ honour the name by day and by night’ – yes, that is the beginning of the song of the Sydney Swans. To my mind, and I admit my bias as a long-time Swans fan, it is the best of all the AFL club songs. For I won’t name names, but, with all respect, parts of some other clubs’ songs are, well, somewhat embarrassing. However, if Swans supporters are being completely honest, even we/they probably wouldn’t claim our anthem to be the greatest song ever written. I do wonder too, after all the rain we have had, and the consequent problems, whether the line ‘shake down the thunder from the sky’ is all that appropriate to sing right now?! I guess that is the point of what, in the best sense of the word, we might call ‘tribal’ songs. They may not always be perfect. They might even be awkward at times. We may not hold straightforwardly to all the details. We might even want to change some of them – and sometimes manage to make that change: just as the original Sydney Swans line ’while our loyal sons are marching’ was changed, in March last year, to ‘while our loyal swans are marching’, reflecting the emergence of the Swans girls youth program and the Swans women’s team (happily, albeit belatedly, to play in the AFLW later this year). They may also be quite annoying to others, even, after a victory, even a little insulting and enraging perhaps to some. However, despite all their limitations, such tribal songs are part of giving expression to shared experiences of deep connection and community, and to forms of faith and hope. As such, trite though they may be in comparison, I feel that they thus give us one way into approaching the historic ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church…
Growing up, even as a little child I was fascinated by what was then known as the English Civil War (although, to be accurate historically, this is now rightly recognised as several different wars across the islands of Britain and Ireland). It was a bitter and brutal period, culminating in the judicial trial and execution of the King. For this was a powerful revolution. Indeed it saw the establishment of a republic, the Commonwealth and Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Moreover, in that latter period there was also an extraordinary flowering of truly radical religious and political life and thought. That, I think, was what especially drew me into the study of history. For the origin of many liberal democratic things we take for granted lie there – for example, the insistence on no taxation or legislation without representation, on regular elections, fixed parliamentary terms, equal votes, and, vitally, on religious freedom for different types of groups, particularly the marginalised. Indeed, Cromwell even reopened England to the Jews, who had been banned for centuries. For his supporters were also part of the movements which helped create Congregationalism, the original founding tradition of Pitt Street Uniting Church...
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...