Commentary on Mark, 11 January 2021
The latest update to my Markan commentary is here.
(Updated November 24 2021)
Sean (THE) Sheep and the Bible.., 31 August 2022
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 >>>
I began this ride with the hope of completing a 1200 Audax in 100 hours or so. This is a little outside the standard 90 hours, but I'm getting old. And it's mid-winter. I met my first day target, but the cold clearly took its toll, and I needed to amend my plans... 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 >>>>
Theologically, what dog is the Prime Minister whistling up when he supports this bill which singles out trans people yet again?
The world’s oldest religion is the religion of the scapegoat. It is the religion where human beings “solve” violence between them by ganging up on one individual who is then killed. The death of the scapegoat creates unity, the murder is all against one, after all, and for a while the violence ceases. It is thought that not only did this practice enable early humans to survive their all against all violence, but the refinement of the practice, and careful repetition, created the first religions. As the theologian James Alison wrote, “We didn't invent sacrifice, sacrifice invented us.” Concilium 2013(4)
One of the first great advances in religion was the ritual sacrifice of animals instead of the sacrifice of humans. Put bluntly, it doesn’t create as much blow-back!
Nonetheless, humans are still sacrificed. We know that a Prime Minister can create at least a temporary peace and unity by sacrificing a cabinet minister or two to calm a scandal. Of course even that is a problem, because he can’t actually kill them, so they can pay him back later! ... Read on >>>>
Everyone is a hero. Only the shape of our heroism differs.
The Persecuted Hero always has to be wronged. All of life, all of their mental landscape, all of their inner talk, is centred around this. This is their being, their identity. Kind, loving, responsible—they may be all these, and honest and ethical to a fault, but that is all lived within the mental landscape of the persecuted hero. Not visible today? Wait until the pressures of tomorrow, and a reversion to their basic self, and we will see. Their internal dialogue will shift back to the language of the persecuted one.
It is so natural, so much a part of them, that they are mostly unaware of it. It's something like the way we don't really see the screen on which a movie is being projected. It takes a long time to understand that our particular kind of hero is there all the time, as the screen on which we play out our lives. It is not just present on our bad days.
Despite all their good qualities, the persecuted hero is living for themselves. Wronged, persecuted, they are nonetheless the hero. They will persist despite the pressures that seek to destroy them. They are the hero who, in the end, is right and true.
This mental landscape allows them to survive. It is the reason they are alive, why they survived childhood or some other trauma. But it is also burden. It has to be maintained. There has to be a struggle. Happiness can only be fleeting, for happiness delegitimises their reality if it lasts too long. If they are happy, much less peaceful, it means their whole world is wrong. So, they are always tired. Always on the edges of things. Never quite able to trust, or be loved. Always sabotaging themselves at some level, and reshaping reality back to the perception that they are being persecuted.
The beginning of conversion is to recognise this selfishness. All of us must see that our illness, whatever it is, is some kind of misplacing of ourselves as the centre of Creation, as the Hero. We all play a role. Perhaps this is not such a surprising statement. What is harder to accept is that the role plays us. Conversion is to become aware that the dynamic of the Persecuted Hero, or whatever role we have adopted or been given, drives us, and seeks to determine us. Conversion begins as we recognise that our mental image of reality is not merely an accidental landscape to life, but a driving force which subverts true joy.
True conversion is a real heroism, for the petty hero recognises and confesses how much they are at the mercy of the life they have imagined. Such a person owns that perhaps, at base, they do not want to be healed. They wish, rather, to remain at the centre of life, only without the pain that this requires. True conversion is to let go of the self. Only then can there be healing, a healing process which will be life-long... Read on >>>>
On my old commute home from work there is a fast track section of secondary road that was always good for burning out a day's frustrations, not to mention enjoying a flat out sprint. But you have to be first away from the lights, or you will end up crawling behind vehicles threading parked cars and negotiating the speed bumps and roundabouts. I stopped at the lights one afternoon, two back from the front. The car in front of me was turning left, which was good, and the next vehicle was another bike.
The rider was a slight young woman whose kit exactly matched the frame of her bike. The colours perfectly offset her skin tones and hair. The clothes were not the usual skin tight lycra, but fitted so well that I wondered it they had been custom made. Bike and rider together made a beautiful unit.
Despite my age, I can still leave most people behind from a standing start. It's about being able to cleat in without looking, and being in the right gear. So I figured that once the car had turned off, I would be able to pass the young woman before we were fully across the intersection, and I'd be in front position.
The car turned left pretty smartly, and I powered forward... and was almost left behind. All sorts of competitive instincts get triggered by something like this, so I pulled into the sweet spot behind her and waited for the right moment—there's a slight bend—where I could push past and leave her behind. At the bend I caught a glimpse of her from the side. She was riding "in the tops," and still breathing through her nose. At somewhere over 40kph she was barely trying! And there was no way I was getting past. I wondered if Anna Meares' little sister was training in Adelaide... Read on >>>>
Wendy and I were doing that left-right by dead-reckoning thing through the back streets as we worked our way across to Marion Road this morning, when I suddenly recognised the street we had entered. Thirty two years ago, a hearse left the Plympton Park church, heading directly away from the cemetery. It lead the cortege past the deceased person’s house, and we all slowed down in an act of tribute that remains one of my more poignant funeral memories.
The dear old woman had known she was dying, and was at peace about it as anyone can be. She’d told her Elder, with wry pleasure, that her last act on this earth would be “to give Andrew an easy funeral for his first one.”
When the day came, I received a breakfast phone call from the Elder. The family were all there. Could I come up? I raced up on my noisy old motor bike, and found that a couple of police, and the funeral directors, were still in attendance. The cop at the gate wouldn’t let me in. He went in and told the funeral director that some disreputable looking bloke was outside claiming to be the minister. Ian Milne, from Alfred James and Sons said, “Hairy bugger on a motorbike? Yeah, he's my Mum’s minster, too. You can let him in.” ... Read on >>>>
Earlier this week I was in Parkholme and wanted to go down to an address to the southwest. In a car I'd have gone down Marion Road to Sturt Road, and finally headed west. It's different on a bike; I headed west immediately, crossed the Sturt Drain via a footbridge, and followed a rat-run through the back streets, that was both safer and faster. Except... part way along the route I had mapped out, I realised my GPS was malfunctioning. It was telling me that north was what I knew to be due south, and that I was heading east, and not west.... Stay with me through the sudden change of direction which follows.
One of my very favourite people has written of our recent past
The professional bigots of the world, whose very livelihoods depend on the attention of those in whom they provoke fear of The Other, decided that the L, the G, and the B just weren’t cutting it as a unifying enemy. Denigrating them wasn’t working as well as it had, people were getting too okay with people loving whoever they damn well pleased (the audacity). So a new spectre was summoned.
Now the fight du jour wasn’t whether non-hetero people should be allowed to work in schools, or have a consenting relationship with another adult. Sure, there were holdouts, who couldn’t let that bigotry go. But now, there was a new scary. They’d not been as visible, people weren’t as comfortable with them, or as familiar, so it was much easier to incite fear, then hatred. They’d even take just enough uncertainty that a well placed “for the children” could sway any argument. Trans people were perverts, deviants, monsters, predators... Read on >>>>
This site is about celebrating life. My own life is too busy; my work is almost designed to keep me from reflection and enjoyment. In the busyness and competition of life, it is hard, especially for men, to be honest about fears and feelings. All this works against celebrating and enjoying life except in a most shallow fashion. So here, I seek to be unbusy.
One Man's Web has grown haphazardly, reflecting the interests of friends and myself. You will find abandoned blind alleys, ideas we no longer adhere to, things we never believed but "hung out there" to see what would happen. There are areas where I am remain passionate, but can't keep up; the area on Australia's refugees is one.
If you find some enjoyment or challenge here, I am glad. Celebrate life!