One Man's Web
Key Post: A Deeper Healing, 10 October 2022
Perhaps the deepest healing we need is to know that we belong, and that we are loved. What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be church? How can church and belonging become the image of God which we are created to be; indeed, what does it mean to be human? For me, these questions have coalesced in the controversy about the role of our sexuality in our relationship with God, and each other, a controversy which has occupied the church since before I was ordained. I offer on this page a number of reflections in this area. You will see that I have concluded that our differences over sexuality are symptoms of something far deeper... Read on >>>>
The Wind, 06 December 2022
It was windy this morning; choppy, buffeting, and cold. Both of us have bad memories of wind. I once spent a week on the remote Barkly Tablelands riding into howling wind. On one of those days I was moving for 10 hours and covered only 70 kilometres. A couple of weeks later I wrote of another day's ride, "But today, going past the big gums in the wind raised deep non-rational discomfort in me; I was afraid. This was safe ride, well within my capabilities, with a motel at the end, and lots of farm houses on the way. But in the growing cloud over the range -- at 12:30 it was darker and it is now at 5:30-- and at other times, I had to fight off moments of panic. If a week of headwinds can do that to me, no wonder months or years in a war zone, or refugee camp, or violent marriage can cause triggers that make people meltdown. It was a sobering experience. I knew exactly what was going on... and that knowledge made no difference at all!" ... Read on >>>>
This is a "pre-exegetical" reading of the text of Luke 21:5-19 and the rest of the chapter. It looks at the context of the words for Luke, and for us now.
The temple is the centrality of the culture. It is the earthly symbol of all that makes Israel Israel. It is the house of God. Yet the temple has been destroyed for some ten or twenty years by the time Luke is written. How can Jesus, Son of God, be who he claimed to be, how can he be Messiah and Saviour, when the central symbol of the faith has been destroyed? Luke is addressing such inevitable questions.
The text speaks of this destruction being in the future—the first audience knew this event as history—but even at the time of the text, the terror continued, as it does today. "Wars and insurrections… earthquakes" and climate change, Covid, persecution, betrayal, armies at the gates. I have lived in an artificial bubble of apparent peace for most of my life, while much of the world has endured terror, but now the terror is arriving here; too much rain, the rising threat of nuclear war, a new wave of Covid with rates doubling by the fortnight, the antichrists Trump and Putin. How do we live in the terror? This is what Luke is addressing... Read on >>>>
John's Gospel tells us that if we have seen Jesus, then we have seen God. (John 14:9) In other words, Jesus shows us the nature of God. So today's Gospel reading about Jesus is ultimately a story about the nature of God. And the story shows us that the nature of God is to heal. God heals even feared and hated outcasts like lepers.
The Greek text says the lepers stood far off, which is what was required if you had one of the skin diseases that were called leprosy. You couldn't go near other people, and it was commonly understood that you were also far off from God. But Jesus makes these ten lepers clean because the nature of God is to heal us and bring us back into community.
If you had leprosy and it got better, then you showed yourself to the priests, who would certify that you were clean, and then when the right rituals had been performed, you could re-enter society and come near to people, and come near to God. You were included in society again... Read on >>>>
Imagining meeting the Human One a second time A personal reflection and witness to a church divided over sexuality
My whole life in church has been lived alongside conflict between those who were part of the 'in' or right-thinking group, and those who were not. It has all been complicated by the fact that the not right-thinking group have usually been certain they are the ones who are right, and that it's the others who are the problem. These conflicts drive people from their congregations, they destroy people and congregations, and have the potential to destroy us as a denomination. How do we survive them? Could we even thrive?
I sometimes still have trouble relating to folk whose expression of faith sounds like the fundamentalism of my youth. It took me a while to realise that in my opposition to them, I sounded rather fundamentalist myself. The truth is that when we define ourselves as "not like" somebody, we mirror them. Some folk do terrible damage to others, and their behaviour should not be tolerated. But how do we do this without becoming part of the problem, simply mirroring the violence? How do we support and protect the wounded who have already borne too much? And how do we prepare ourselves so that we may recognise and seize those moments of grace where, for a short time, we feel a common humanity and faith with those who have been our enemy?
This essay shares my conviction that the healing of us requires far more than being right. There is a much deeper healing offered to us... Read on >>>>
To allies of LGBTIQ+ people: a theological exposition.
When the formation of a diocese unaffiliated with the Anglican Church in Australia appeared in my news feed in August 2022, I had some sympathy with friends who said, "Generate all over again." Yet the two situations are far different. We in the UCA are seeking to remain in communion with each other despite the terrible pain we cause each other. The existence of Generate Presbytery has the potential to be a great witness to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This is because it can witness to the Uniting Church striving for a culture which reflects the nature of God; that is, a culture which strives for the inclusion of all people and so reflects that God loves all people just the same... if we will be courageous and continue to seek to work with each other.
To emphasise the point: Generate Presbytery seeks to remain within the Uniting Church, and I suspect many of us underestimate what that may cost its leaders in criticism from some of its members, and from other presbyteries. By contrast, the newly formed Anglican Diocese seems to have walked some distance away from the vision of a God who loves and values all people equally.
This article is not intended as a critique of Generate Presbytery or of individual members. Although I disagree strongly with some of the sentiment I have heard from members of that presbytery, I am also indebted to some of the same people for alerting me to my personal shortcomings and for being channels of healing for me. All this before wondering what lessons I could have learned about mission and discipleship from those same colleagues, had I paid attention.... Read on >>>>
Why do we need bible scholars? Why can't we just read the plain text? You've heard this sort of question. I said it myself as a younger person, deeply suspicious of what these "scholars" might do to my faith. Well, here's some of the reason.
Let's start with kid's TV. Remember Bob the Builder and Postman Pat. That's a cultural thing, where alliteration is used to attract us to the text. It’s the same in Sean Sheep. Except that if English is not our first language, we might miss the joke in the title. Think about it...
And remember Play School: Noni would be on hands and knees acting the part of the motor car while John the mechanic would make comments about it needing some work on the big end, and then he would look under the car and make comments about the undercarriage. It all sounded just like the language the little kids might hear dad use in the garage, but there was another story going on as well! Biblical stories often operate at two levels: the surface narrative and something deeper. Except that second level is not a joke, but about salvation.
At Pilgrim Church, Jenski and I once did an improvised play about Deborah and Barak, and at the end I said, "Well kids, Barak had a particular male problem." Helen Smith yelled from up the back, "Prostate." The place erupted into laughter, kids included. It so happened that there was a four year old in that congregation who, 15 or 16 years later, became a frequent visitor to our house. I told this story at the table one night, and they said, "I've always remembered everyone laughing at you. Now that I know why they were laughing it's even funnier!"
Not only can we miss the context of a conversation or a text from another culture, we can also misinterpret things. We once had wonderful next door neighbours who happened to be from India. And, in the style of their province, when they were talking to their children they would call me "Andrew Uncle." Some other folks from the same part of India joined my congregation. One day... Read on >>>>
The last three years have deepened my understanding of family, its riches and its terrors. In this time, our family has weathered crises which have left me rejoicing in the rich resilience our family has given us. Yet, from another direction, we have been traumatised all over again. If there is any truth in my post of 2019, it is that we cannot be separate from our families, at least, not of ourselves. I said then, and now see even more clearly, that
there never was a lone cowboy rode into town. There was always an invisible legion riding with him; brothers and uncles, even the father he never knew, and his mother, well armed. When I first took a laptop on a long solitary ride across the country, my dear father printed out every blog post for himself, and then reprinted the photos with varying degrees of success and mailed them to my sister already reading the blog in England. Why? Because he was riding with me. The journeying that is me, was him… (Disciple… or not)
I remember a conversation in a mental health ward. An amazing patient described tracking a certain abuse across generations of their family and said, "It stops with me." And we both knew that this courageous determination to be a disruptor of this family cycle was the reason we were having the conversation in a mental health unit. Even such separation from family as we can manage is brutally painful and costly, for family is a key factor in our formation as a person. To separate from them is to embark on undoing and remaking something built, reinforced, and practised for our whole lives until now. In calling us, Jesus offers us a path to that undoing and remaking... Read on >>>>
I relate to the leader of the synagogue. I like things done in decency and order. I'm conservative like that. For much of my life, I suspect that if I had been there, I'd have taken his side. Really, what difference would another day make?
But I have changed. My conservatism is still here—far too much—but something else is happening. It's as though I used to stand looking at my part of the world from the top of Mt Lofty, but now I'm standing on St Mary's peak. The whole place looks different. (I guess it would be like the views from Mt Rainer and Mt Whitney, if you live in the USA.)
I've been reading my post from 2013 on this text. In that post, I imagined the bent-over woman was the auntie of the leader of the synagogue. She had raised him after the death of his mother. He cries out to Jesus after the healing, " And Auntie Marge… what now. Yes—standing up straight—always a reminder—a sign against us of how we could not honour God in this place. What have you done to us! You make me weep. Six days in the week you had… and you still break the Sabbath!"
And Jesus replied to him like this: "Mate, sit down. Don't you see what God is saying! Marge is more important than the rules! Marge is more important than the commandments. If I didn't heal her then, right when I saw her, what would God have said to me? [Wouldn’t God say] Jesus… what are you doing? There's a woman there hurting. She loves me. She's given the leader of this synagogue her life… and you're not healing her yet because it’s the Sabbath!? Jesus… the Sabbath was created for Marge and her nephew! It's there for their healing and restoration!"
In my 2019 post I quoted Bill Loader: " What is God really like? What if God’s chief concern is not to be obeyed, but something else? What if God’s chief focus is love and care for people and for the creation? Then the focus moves from God’s commands to God’s people and world." And then I said
There is an absolute clash of world views in this story. Each is dumbfounded by the other. How can you break the Law like this? There are six other days! You could wait. How can you insult God like this? The leader of the synagogue is not being petty. His God has been insulted, ignored, and belittled by what Jesus has done. It is sacrilege.
Yet how could you make her wait one more day!? Can you not see her agony? Healing is here! God wishes her well! Why withhold the blessings of God? What kind of God do you believe in?! Jesus cannot believe what he is hearing.
We still worry about serving "God" instead of being simply compassionate. The two world views still compete with each other. The "issue is alive and well," Loader says.
When I think about this in terms of my understanding of world views, I can see that Jesus cannot persuade the leader of the synagogue I have imagined; there is too much of a break between the world view of the two. Even their common ground of compassion is not enough of a bridge. The leader's worldview is concreted into the idea of pleasing God. God may not be the one of the gods of Babylon, but is still, at base, a god who needs to be appeased. Jesus' God is the Prodigal Father who overlooks and forgives all our failures, wanting only that we will find our reality and comfort in relationship with God.
The leader is where he is because his worldview is partial. Despite his people's centuries of listening to God, they do not fully understand where/who/how God is. That's because they are limited, finite people who can never fully understand. By definition. Or else they would be God.
So there's a sting in the tail of this story. Because maybe I've shifted from Mt Lofty to St Mary's Peak where the view is higher and different, but I'm still limited. I'm not God. My church culture, and therefore my being, is still mostly concreted into appeasing God.
This story is not really about the leader of the synagogue. It's about me. Because, all the time, Jesus is waiting for me to see that I don't get it. That there is still a clash of world views between him and me. Maybe I've moved. I hope I have. Things certainly look different. But I'm still on a very low mountain when it comes to seeing and understanding the whole of Creation.
If I am not dumbfounded by what Jesus is doing, or calling me to do, it means, by definition, that I'm not paying attention. If I'm not terrified by where the Gospel is calling me to go, it means, by definition, that I'm not listening to the right Gospel. Because the Kingdom of God, the fullness of Creation, call it what we will, is greater than anything I can imagine. And it will always challenge me and show me my deficiencies.
(August 16 2022)
When the new Canadian minister arrived, some of the women in her Australian congregation invited her to the football. Settled in the stands, the new minister asked which team they were barracking for, except she used a term Canadians use at the ice hockey. Her new parishioners quickly told her never to use that word— in Australia you barrack—but they would not tell her why. She had to ask one of the men of the congregation after church the next day! He explained that whilst Australian trees are anchored into the soil by the same method as Canadian trees, the word is never used as a verb, at least, not in polite company!
This is an excellent example of the cultural blind spots which mean we can say something quite different to what we intend, or completely miss the significance of something which is obvious to everyone else. And, for a long time, there has been a cultural blind spot in our reading of this text. We read this story as though it is about the younger son or, sometimes, seeing ourselves as the older brother. The younger son is a stereotype, being what younger sons often are, but the father is something else. Jesus' listeners would have been bemused, if not scandalised, by the behaviour of the father. That's the blind spot for us.
Jesus' culture was an honour-shame culture. We are a consumer culture.... Read on >>>
This ride was a part of my training for a 1200km audax. I'm unlikely to be able to do the whole 1200 inside the 90 hours; I'm a bit old. But there is no harm in taking as little time as possible. I set up a 300km loop which includes my audax route through the Adelaide Hills. I was especially interested in keeping down the time lost to stops, which can easily bloat out to 25% of a ride. I aimed at no more than 6 minutes stationary per hour, and was really pleased to pull that off.... Read on >>>>
It's a pleasant stroll along some creek paths and backstreets to my favourite Indian spice shop. We needed more of their excellent basmati rice, and that's how I came to be walking past a playground in a creek reserve just after school today. Two Catholic school girls, long hair, skirts well below the knees, where goofing around on one of those multi-person swings that send you in sometimes unexpected directions depending on which way your friends are moving. It happened as I was walking past and the sudden sideways spin provoked a pair of half terrified - half delighted squawks from the two girls. Except that one of those squawks sounded like it was modulated by a Y chromosome. They froze as they saw me, the taller one seeming to steel herself. This, more than her body morphology, suggested my intuition she was transgender was correct. I nodded and said "G'day" as I walked past, and both of them visibly relaxed.
Two sweet kids having fun on a swing. If a suburban Catholic school can accommodate this child, what on earth is the Prime Minister's problem with transgender kids?
I spent the last kilometre wondering what it would have been like as a child to have been accepted for who I was, instead of having to fit into what the district considered appropriate for males or risk having the shit beaten out of me. One of my friends told me that by the time they had worked out who they were—what was going on—"it was too late to transition." I didn't understand why that was, but now I think I understand some of it. I am so enculturated as a male that it seems impossible to be anything else. But I am not male. I scrape along most of the time, but sometimes it's like the over-wet winter I shoved my bare feet into my Dad's rubber boots to clear up some mud. My feet were blistered and my legs ached because everything was the wrong shape. I didn't fit. That's how I feel about me, sometimes; I don't match the shape I'm supposed to wear, and it doesn't seem possible to change. I'm stuck inside myself where I don't fit, and can't get out. And I grieve for what might have been.
I'd spotted a short cut to get back into the creek, and I took this on the way back. It took me closer to the two girls, still chatting. I smiled at the taller girl who gave me a radiant smile in return.
The Prime Minister wants you to hate her. He wants you to pretend that all our problems are caused by sweet kids who are trying to sort themselves out. He can't get away with anti-gay and anti-lesbian dog whistles anymore, and it's getting electorally risky to pick on Muslim folk, because they have enough votes to cause him trouble. So he sacrifices the trans kids to the mob so that the mob won't go for him and hold him responsible for his appalling* government. He dresses it up in a veneer of religion, a religion which is a perversion and a betrayal of the Christ who would rather die than let people be excluded by the elites.
Andrew Prior (May 2022)
*Mike Carlton called them "the most corrupt, incompetent government in our history"
The biggest gum on the farm had been a remnant tree even before the whites began to devastate the land. There would have been a Nukunu name for that one tree. He would walk past it on his endless "walks around the sheep" despite its standing on the roughest slope of the ridge. He walked behind it one afternoon, intending his customary turn up past along the west boundary, and met a red kangaroo circling the scrub in the opposite direction. They stood face to face, roo to man, for long moments, tall as each other.
His wife asked him what he had done then. "Well, I turned around and went where I was going, and he turned around and went where he was going." Dry humour which hid the less comfortable facts of the matter.
It seemed to him that after the first moment of surprise they had stood looking at each other for a very long time. Something timeless had happened, a meeting with another face of himself: solitary, powerful, dangerous. And a curious fellow feeling, although who knew what the roo made of it all.
The big reds come south in the dry years, using the ranges for cover, and making short trips out to the paddocks to get water from the sheep troughs. Or travel along the Rocky or the Broughton, lying low under scrubby cover during the day.
Why had it been there in the last few yards of scrub on the range with nothing but open paddocks beyond? "That tree pulled us both in, lost as each other. What sort of kangaroo stands there face to face, and just looks at you?"
He lay down in the scrub and wept.
Wept for tall trees and lost boys, and griefs he could not name.
And all the dark beauty of life which causes so much pain.
And kept on walking, but never saw the kangaroo again.
Revelation is an intuition
the world is not as we thought it to be;
a glimpse of difference;
a moment of insight one might easily miss,
which fades and is fast forgotten unless practiced
and proved to be a new truth... Read on >>>>
In 1989 I had the privilege of working with an astute and generous psychiatrist. In one of our sessions he suddenly asked, "Have you ever thought that you'd rather have been born as a woman?" I have no recollection that I had ever thought that to myself, but it seemed so obvious that I replied, "Well, of course. But there's not much I can do about that, is there?" And went on with whatever I'd been talking about. Wisely, I think, he let it go. At that moment I had more pressing issues to manage.
I have always related much more easily to women. I've had few male friends, and those relationships have always been a little at arm's length. Once or twice, I have sensed that another man and I have both longed for something deeper and more intimate, but had no idea how to proceed. I am at ease with female friends. Female parishioners have typically confided in me in a way few males have done. I have been able to listen to those woman, and perhaps even help them, with an ease I have never had with men... Read on >>>>