|Pen and Ink Reflections||
"What's in a name?”, said Juliet: “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s famous lines speak of the power of names and designations. He presents Juliet, on her balcony, musing on the rose as a metaphor, in the context of her love for Romeo and the intense, age-old, conflict between two tribes - the Capulets (Juliet’s mob) and the Montagues (Romeo’s mob). Juliet proclaims that names have no ultimate meaning, other than those which people are willing to give them. As she puts it, in reference to Romeo: “Tis but thy name that is my enemy…. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot/ Nor arm, nor face. O be some other name/ Belonging to a man.” We do not, says Juliet here, have to be controlled by our names, by our tribes. We can choose how to live with them, and, in love, transcend them. Of course, Shakespeare’s story of the young lovers ends in tragedy. It is challenging to live with, and beyond, our names, our tribal identities. It can bring misunderstanding, opposition, and much worse. Yet is this not the path of true love, in the fullest dimensions of those words? Certainly, as we come today to bless our beautiful new interfaith banner, we do so in awareness of that same call to honour the different names of God, and not to let them control and divide us. For in the depth of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, true love, divine love, is not simply about reaffirming what is valuable in our tribal identities. True love is also about walking paths of inner and outer transformation together…
Today’s reading from Luke begins with the often-repeated phrase ‘don’t be afraid’. It is a phrase so often repeated that it has given me pause for thought this week. Do the Scriptures encourage us all the time not to be afraid, precisely because the people for whom they were written were in fact constantly afraid? They would have had good reason to be. As far as we can tell most early followers of Jesus were subject peoples living in occupied territory. The might of Rome was a constant threat, taxes were high, financial insecurity inevitable, and it was not as though they had the securities of modern medicine, analgesics, and antibiotics. Moreover, the expectation of Christ’s imminent return, coupled with an increasing impatience at its delay sounds an anxious apocalyptic note throughout the pages of the New Testament.
But what about ourselves? Are we also afraid? Religion has after all for centuries traded in fear – fear of God’s punishment and condemnation, sweetened by the promise of salvation for those who truly believe, (some have called that ‘pie in the sky when you die’); treasures in heaven beyond the reach of moth, rust, and thieves – and after the last few months in Sydney I’d want to add mould! So, are we also afraid? This is an important question as we enter a period of considering our mission as a congregation. If we are afraid, what are we afraid of? – remembering that fear is not all bad. It is a great motivator to action. But the encouragement of the gospel is not to be afraid, but to act from a different place – a place where we don’t have supposed ‘treasures’ to defend; a place where we are set free from the need to control and secure; a place indeed as the letter to the Hebrews calls it, of faith...
"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’...
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 12A
What do you make of religious experience – not religious ideas, religious morals, religious activities, but religious experience? Does it make you awkward, uncomfortable, even embarrassed? Many secular people find it to be so. Even many Christians avoid talking about it. To a degree, this is understandable. Religious experience can be very intimate and personal. It is not always something we want to hawk about and have discussed in public. It is after all a holy thing, and St Paul warned us not to throw holy things before the ignorant, the swinish, lest they be trampled underfoot. It can also be misused, like those Christians, and others, who sometimes tell us that unless we have their kind of religious experience – perhaps their kind of conversion or charismatic experience – then we are not Christians, or acceptable to God, at all. All that, as I say, is understandable. Yet, if it keeps us from religious experience, or reflecting on our religious experience, then it is a huge problem. For, as we see in today’s great story of Moses and the burning bush, religious experience is central to our Faith. Encountering the living God is not an embarrassing extra to life. It is at the heart of our being and our becoming. For, as Saint Augustine said, our hearts are ultimately restless until they find their rest in God...
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 11A, Sunday 24 August 2014
Most of have probably heard of Mahatma Gandhi. What however does ‘Mahatma’ mean? It was not the real name of the remarkable 20th century Indian leader called Gandhi. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The honorary name Mahatma was given to him because of his amazing character. Indeed, it was given to him when he was a lawyer in South Africa, especially for his deep concern and work for the poor. For the name Mahatma comes from a Sanskrit word which means ‘high (or great) soul’. In Christian terms, we might say ‘saint’, or, simply, one who is ‘great hearted’.
Whom would you name Mahatma today?
Whom do you see as ‘great hearted’?...