|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Recently I was given a wonderful handmade doorstop. It was a gift from the main organiser of an event I spoke at in the Uniting Church’s Pilgrim College in Melbourne (see my address here and Talitha's own explanation here). We were marking the landmark first Australian university unit in Queer Theology, before the intensive which Penny and I were about to teach. As such, the doorstop was one fitting symbol of such developments, keeping open the possibilities of hearing the voice of God in contemporary culture, particularly in queer lives and spiritual experience, and enabling some of our collective old pain and exhaustions to leave and new joys and challenges to enter. It is however but one doorstop among many created by my colleague during the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne. For too many doors were closed at that time. Then and still now, she feels it is important to have practical symbols which keep alive horizons of hope and renew possibilities of life and relationship. In that sense, it is also perhaps one fitting pointer both to our Gospel story (Luke 10.25-38) and to the divine possibilities of Christian mission today. For, in a number of other ways, the parable of the so-called ‘Good’ Samaritan is actually quite impossible…
This week I came across the account of a student of the Alexander technique. For those of you not familiar, this is a movement based therapy that helps an individual to see their inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interfere with their innate ability to move easily. This was their experience as they interacted with a client for the first time.
‘Suddenly I feel overwhelmed by implications. The way he’s co-ordinating to stand is part of his whole way of being in the world, and here’s me about to move in and maybe change that, or at least offer a different possibility. A sense of politeness paralyses me for a moment. I don’t want to interrupt. Later I talk with [the teacher]. She looks at me with steady compassion. ‘Actually, I see that as part of my job. To interrupt patterns.’ She’s right. Interrupting is part of my job.’
Interrupting is part of my job. I think Saint Matthew would have agreed and as we celebrate his saint’s day today, and consider the ways in which he presented the teachings of and about Jesus in the gospel that bears his name, I invite you to consider him as a great interrupter. I also invite you to consider that interrupting is also part of our job as ministers, teacher and spiritual directors. It is our task, with the guidance of the spirit, to help others interrupt their destructive habits of life and behaviour, whether at the individual or communal level, and find transformation....
Today's passages invite us to use our imagination. To imagine what it would be like to have had everything we thought was important reduced to rubble. To imagine what God might do to transform our world. To imagine the temple that Jesus and his friends saw, and what it was like for that temple also to be destroyed. For these passages teach us that life is always being rebuilt, and that God is always doing something new. Our job is to be alert to what God is doing, and to make choices that help God transform the world...
Lepers stuck out from the crowd. They were obliged to do so by edict that demanded that they ring a bell or call out 'unclean, unclean', and that they separate themselves totally from the rest of society. They would have done so anyway, as the horrors of their progressive illness disfigured their bodies, and the smell of their rotting flesh repulsed any who came near. They would have been acutely aware of being different. Leprosy in the days before modern medicine and antibiotics was a death sentence, but an horrific death by inches over many years. The ten lepers in our story today had clearly become bound together by their common tragedy. In its face other social barriers were set aside. Yet in the midst of this group that stuck out from surrounding society, one stuck out even more. The question is: 'what made that tenth leper stand out and how can we be like him?'
One of the wonderful things about many Jewish people I have met is their capacity to wrestle with our human experience and ideas of God. They just do not settle for simplistic answers, especially when it is comes to the really big human questions of hope and suffering, life and death. Indeed there is a famous saying: ‘ask two Jews, get three opinions.’ Now, of course, this, can occasionally lead to a certain stubbornness and unnecessary conflict. It points us however to the very heart of biblical religion, especially as we find it in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the God of the biblical tradition is very much a God with whom to wrestle. We see this, not least, in the book of Hosea, from which we hear again today. Indeed, the God whom Hosea reveals is very much a God wrestling with God’s own compassion, very much as a parent wrestles with their own hurts and hopes for their child. This is the deepest, most mysterious, heart of love, and it is into this kind of love we baptise Margaret Rose today…
A desert monk who once said: ‘the day will come when the world will go mad. When they meet someone who is sane, they will point at them and say “they are mad: they are not like us.”’ ‘They are mad: they are not like us’ – isn’t that part of the madness of our own world today? How often do we separate ourselves from others, or are separated from others, because the awareness of our common humanity has been lost? How badly do we need the sanity of loving our neighbour as ourselves?
As the Warumpi Band put it, in a notable song:
Black fella, white fella./Yellow fella, any fella./It doesn't matter, what your colour./As long as you, a true fella./As long as you, a real fella. Isn’t this at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel passage today?...
"Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands…and put my hand in his side; I refuse to believe.” Thomas was after certainty wasn’t he?
Often we speak of ‘doubting’ Thomas. Yet the Thomas we encounter here is not so much doubting as demanding proof. There is an aggressiveness in his demand for sure proof that is disturbing, and is matched by the fervour of his response once proof is provided. ‘My Lord and my God’ he proclaims: the loftiest acclamation of Christ anywhere in the New Testament.
In terms of personality it would be more accurate to characterise Thomas as a fundamentalist than a doubter. For him things are very clear with no grey areas. Such clarity produces great zeal and a capacity for courageous and devoted service. It is also potentially very dangerous.
Today across our world we see an increase in fundamentalism. This is true alike of all the mainstream religions and also of liberal securalism. It is a human phenomenon of our times, arising at least in part in response to the uncertainties of the post modern era, with the rapid pace of change brought about by the technological revolution. Fearful of the attack on familiar elements of culture and the perceived rubbishing of important values many people are attracted by the simplicity and apparent clarity of a fundamentalist approach. We can recognise it in ourselves; and we can see it just as clearly in those who would outlaw all religion as having evil consequences as in those who see themselves engaged in ‘Holy War’...