Christian Existence and Modern Existence 6 : Planting flowers amongst the ruins

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
6. Seeds of Hope amongst the Ruins

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4

Well, I will come to that shortly, but first let us recap.

As i suggested, the roots of our dis-ease lay in the human desire for ‘power over’. As with the First Adam in the garden, the words of the serpent seem to ring down through the ages Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Now what is it to ‘see and to take’? Except to exert power over – to make a life for yourself – to be like God – knowing good and evil – that is with the capacity, indeed the necessity to choose. And choice itself is a fruit of the Fall, and if history teaches us anything it is that by and large we do not choose well! To take – to grasp – is to see the world as Ours to do with as we see fit. And indeed this may be said to epitomise our approach to the world in which we live.

of course this is a very old story and as such it finds its way into all human existence and it is hardly surprising that it should show up in the church, so contests of power wormed their way in and The Great Schism may well be described as the fruit of such a conquest. Pope Leo IX asserting his will (and following this amongst other things ‘the will’ became very much the focus of human consideration of God and of what it meant to be human).

To assert our will over is rather than to understand ourselves in the place of Gift – of givenness – of Grace, as those who living in Trust and Hope receive (which we are reminded of in St Paul’s injunction to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ ) – rather to see ourselves as those who take, and indeed make.

It is this perspective which I think reveals to us why we are so enamoured of Technology – for it is of our making and it gives us increasing power over. Let us be in no doubt, We have Great power over the rest of the Created order, and by We i mean especially those who inhabit ‘the Modern World’ – a world in which Power over has been increased beyond comprehension by the release of the Apocalyptic energy of fossil fuels, making us Powerful and wealthy beyond the dreams of the avarice of the most avaricious of our forebears.

A World marked by Power over evidenced in that we are those who Choose. We look out on the world as its Centre and pick from the things we see surrounding us. We choose what we will eat, what we will wear, where we will live, not only if we have a car but what model, we choose what work we shall do, we choose whom we shall marry – Stanley Hauerwas speaking of current debates on marriage in his provocative style says ‘The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony, and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from?’, and our choices go right down to which church we shall worship in, whether or not it is to our taste, we even choose our own idea of God, having become like Gods.

On this last point I am reminded of the the now sadly retired theologian Marva Dawn’s fabulous retort to a parishioner who after a service told her ‘I didn’t like any of the hymns today’ – ‘Well that’s fine and not a problem, because we weren’t worshipping you’

What is more as technical choosers we think nothing of supposing that ‘building the Kingdom of God’ is ur business, for after all we have built everything else that we can see.

The dramatic conclusion of the Modern Story is precisely this, that we have turned everything inside out – and that we have made ourselves the centre of everything. And thus I suggest all but entirely abandoned the faith. I must briefly also say that to the obvious retort, ‘well its ok for the Vicar to say that – you have things as you want them’ I can only reply that of course there is a grain of truth to that, but also that were that true as much as my fallen desires would have it, then I would have emptied the church by now – fulling it full of icons and incense and liturgies that went on of hours – like a priest I heard of recently i would insist that no one could come to the Eucharist who had not come to evening prayer the night before . . . (just to give you an insight into what would suit me 🙂 )

For all the challenges we face in the church it is This Fatal inversion of our faith which is by far the most significant – for our Life is in God. The fact that almost all of what I have said seems in so many ways to be absolutely untroubling is only a symptom of our deep sleep with regard to the Living God in our midst
OK So having set out as clearly as I can the Bad News – here’s a wee cartoon . . .

Why so Optimistic?? Well in a sense we have been here before, although perhaps without the inversion of our faith – Alistair Macintyre in his most widely read work, After Virtue, (First published in 1981 . . . ) which looks how the choosing self and thus the Self that cannot grow has positioned itself at the Centre of things says ‘If the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark age, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already ben governing us for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting, not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.’ Benedict of course is famous for setting up monasteries, which he called ‘schools of the Lord’s Service’ Places where we learned through shared life and practices Christian existence, in much the same way that we might learn Life through engagement with others

So apart from setting up monasteries for formation in Christian Existence, what might we do? What are the seeds which we might plant? As we look out on this wasteland of ‘The Abolition of MAn’ how might we in our small way begin to plant some flowers?

First to note that planting flowers in the face of such a situation is precisely a Gospel move. Martin Luther famously said in response to the question, ‘what would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?’ said ‘Plant a tree’. Here in Holy week, we have an echo of the word of the LORD to Jeremiah – ‘buy a field’. And of course, Jesus’ words to us – ‘if you have faith the size of a mustard seed . . .’ Small things patiently done for their own sake are the heart of a way back.

So let us begin with One thing – and for a moment I want to return to Maximos and his saying which we have encountered each week and compare it with a familiar gospel story

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Now I have to say that the most kick back I ever get when I preach is when I preach on this text 🙂 And how unsurprising is this? For after all if we live in a world which we think requires us to be ‘bringing in the Kingdom of God’ then Martha rather than Mary is our patron . . . but notice the Lord’s words to Martha – you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing . . . Our forebear Adam – rather than bringing all things into One, separated that which was united . . .

Well the ‘many things are but a symptom of the collapse of the Unity of the Cruciform human. it is the deep renewal of our humanity which is always and everywhere called for. FIRST in its vertical dimension – then in the horizontal. The Order of the great Commands is entirely necessary.
Martha we might say is distracted by the horizontal – pulled apart – Jesus counsels her to follow MAry’s example. First things first.

One of the great symptoms of this age is Martha’s distraction  literally as we are distracted by many things we are pulled apart – the human disintegrates -— ‘Look at what is coming to us!’ False ‘Beholdings’. I would tend to say the first thing perhaps we might usefully do is a stop doing – a stop paying attention to news from afar. You and I are not going to influence it – ‘There will be wars and rumours of wars . . . ‘ Just the other day on FB I saw someone asking ‘So what would YOU do about Syria?’ It seemed to me to be the most ridiculous question.

In fact the What of Christian Action has never changed – Love the lord your God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength’  the Unifying Vision.

As Science looks at things in separation, most fatally NOT looking at the World in and Through Christ, imagining we can know anything apart from the Creator and as we have grown up in a culture entirely informed and one might say ‘created’ by that way of seeing – it is hardly any surprise that Jesus words to Mary sound ridiculous. but what is she doing – she is utterly devoted, given over to God in Jesus Christ – This is the meaning of our baptism – we no longer live for ourselves. We LIVE by Loving God above all and through all and in all. So FIRST we need a renewal of our vision – we need to be converted, the renewal of our nous – that Eye of the heart needs to be cleared. And it is only through the simple yet demanding work of the contemplation of God that that clarity might come about. Maggie Ross in her work on Silence comes close to this – it is the Deep Perceiving ‘mind’ the Silent Mind which Beholds! Which is a possibility if our Desire is thus turned, to See, to Behold God.
So the first Thing apart from which all else is a counsel of yet more distraction is the renewal of Contemplative prayer in its deepest sense – that ‘Feleing’ [sic] after God, that groping towards him, which is LOVE. And perhaps to remember that the Hebrew has no word for ‘mind’ – so when we recite the first commandment, we need to put more emphasis on the ‘heart’ which is the seat of our perception Hebrew thought.

I think that in this regard the word son St Theresa of Avila are of great benefit – ‘I do not love God, I do not even want to love God, but I do want to want to love God’. Her refreshing honesty which is the hallmark of all Saints as they Behold God and thus See the poverty of their own hearts is I think an encouragement to us

Formation in Christian existence requires unremitting attention – it is not ‘a thing’ in the midst of busy lives – it is ‘the thing’ which must permeate every moment of our existence – in other words we seek in and through everything to obey the Great commands which call us to Life – PRECISELY as the Words of Jesus called Lazarus form Death to Life. As Jesus submit to the Cross, so we submit to the Work of loving God in and through all things and our neighbour as ourself – THIS is our Vocation – it is the calling of God to us

One of the great deceits of this present age is to cloud human existence in a fog of complexity – whereas it is Simple – simple but difficult. Difficult because we allow ourselves to be distracted from our End – which is our Life in God. The Great Commands are words which call us to life. As some have noted before me, as we seek to walk in the way of these commands, they become our way of life. Using the great gifts of the disciplines built into our tradition we start by refusing to covet, until such time as ‘you shall not covet’ move from being apprehended as command, to become prophetic words about our nature.

To return to Benedict, part of his genius was to See what it was that helped people to grow into maturity. To the vows of Charity and poverty and obedience, he added famously a fourth – Stabilitas. IF we are talking about how our lives might grow, then moving around will do nothing to help. If the reality of our existence is that the material and spiritual are interwoven then our geographical location, with its attendant people is vitally important to us. We cannot grow if we are constantly being uprooted. This is why, given the right care and attention, good old fashioned parishes can become the seedbed for formation in Christian Existence. If shopping around for a church harms us by further reinforcing ourselves as the Centre of existence end not GOd, so Staying put, in a world where thanks to the motor car and indeed the airplane we are always on the move,  when faithfully practised can be the beginning of Growth towards God.

it seems to me that if we Anglicans in Dunedin merely moved to our nearest churches and put down roots there, the establishment of Christian Community might be a possibility. To quote Father Stephen in a very recent blog posting ‘we will make little headway [with formation in Christian existence] unless and until we recognize that the modern . . . life (in its many aspects) is a moral choice. Living a half-hour away from a parish, isolated from fellow believers, may very well be the most serious moral choice we make after Holy Baptism, despite how innocuous it may seem.

Closing small churches is no good – the people who are there have been there for years and years, they are  the soil in which new life can spring forth, if people who are driving a long way to ‘get their own desires seen to’ (not needs met!!!) go to church locally – then MUCH can be done by way of revitalisation of the Church. My own reading of folk who move around is that they are poorly growing, they think themselves far more mature in faith than they are. Those who are mature in faith will put up with much, they will turn even inconvenience into means to grow deeper into God. For they realise the density of our existence – they are not moving around – they feel the grit and the sand of the soil, the struggle for life. In their weakness and vulnerability they are radical open to that which is.

Which brings me to another point that this growth requires others. Community is both means and End. As St Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians. Benedict Saw this also. He has no time for those who move around to find somewhere where they can be the centre and so wither spiritually, and he demands that no one is safe to be let out alone, to pass on to the life of a solitary, unless they are first grounded in the formation of Community. It is only in and through the trials and tribulations of shared life that we gradually are formed into people who PERHAPS might be safe on their own. Without commitment to the local church we will make no progress. Today there are so so many which think they have gifts but reject the challenge of community. They are utterly unsafe.
Unless we have had to forgive many many times we cannot begin to assume we know a thing about the Life of Jesus, who is forgiving Everyone for Everything

Community brings us to the next point – everything flows form the Eucharist. The practise of shared meals is one which reinforces community and is the outworking of the Eucharist. Sharing our tables at home, reinforces the Eucharistic community making it a place of Joy and Great Faith and Hope. Inviting people to dinner can be the most counter cultural thing to do. the Eucharist as the Central sacrament of our Life together is the source of our Light and Life

Humility – small seeds are the foundation of the life of moving mountains, there are mountains that undeniably need moving but our spiritual strength has been radically attenuated these past years. Jesus comes to us in humility. HIs Weakness is the path of true power – not power over but power in and through. It is to follow Jesus in allowing our existence be shaped by those around us. Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ – in humility thinking of others as better than ourselves, but we need the constant encouragement, correction, the occasional rebuke of others to do this. This is must be said is entirely contrary to how church exists for us in these days where we are by and large isolated, the idea that another member of the church might rebuke us is alarming – we don’t come to church for THAT!! This by the way i not a license for us to rebuke others – for was we know we have logs in our own eyes, rather it is to welcome a word of correction or discipline for we know that our souls require it.

All of this – let us not forget is an old story – growing in the Virtues. Training in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity and self control.

It is submitting to the simple business of always being with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. I have said it before and will say it again, apart from constant fellowship with God’s people, our faith becomes illusory. I suffer from time to time, people who only infrequently submit to the discipline of shared life with others, because of this or that or the other slight, or worse because they think they can teach others, living illusions about this or that or the other which they think they will accomplish for God.

i’m reminded of Ananias – the man sent to Saul of Tarsus to bring the gospel to him. We only hear of him once, All we know is he was in prayer.

Forbearance as a very necessary trait – we don’t hang around long enough with people we find difficult for the gift of that difficulty to bear fruit in us . . . Remember the story of Peter asking Jesus ‘how many times should I forgive my brother? seven times?? The Pharisees said three, but they assumed that forgiveness was something that came from their spiritual superiority. Peter needs to be woken up from this deathly way. Why no, says Jesus, Seventy times seven times – in other words . . . you keep on forgiving and forgiving, not because the other person needs it, but because you are being formed into the likeness of the one who forgives everyone for everything . . . In other words, Forgive seventy times seven Peter – go on forgiving until you forget the question – until the Image of God within you begins to bear the fruit of the likeness of God

And just simply BEING with others. our emphasis is so much on ‘ministry’ or doing things for people, that we lose the fabric of just being out of which any meaningful doing has its context. Church is not just a million and one ‘doings’ – if the only time we are with people is when we are doing things for them, then we have missed the point entirely and in this regard I think that clergy have much to learn, and those who ‘have a ministry’

A couple of further points. Firstly we must do everything in our power to uncouple ourselves from our reliance on technology which is fragmenting everything. If you only can manage to walk to the shops once a week, do it! The idolatry of technology is changing us in the words of CS Lewis into ‘Men with empty chests’ Computers have no heart, no way of perceiving God – spending time in their company is a drain on your Existence. Be with God, Be with people, Be alone. Before you ever try and ‘Be’ with a phone etc.

Secondly grow SOMETHING you eat – better grow something to SHARE. For Sharing is at the heart of our Life. koinonia. Jesus literally shares his life with us – SHARING is the heart of this Life in God. Share your table, share your food share everything God has entrusted to you. For God has shared everything he has with us.

And in every way possible go easy on the creation. As I said last time, our Power over has brought us to the point where we are on the edge of so destroying the Creation that we have no life. I am reminded that humility is a word which is all about Soil, humus, relatedness. Our basic relationship is with Creation – soil – dust you are and to dust you shall return. The loss of our humanity is paralleled by the destruction of the soil. Allow your mortal body to be food for the soil, and thereby recognise that you are part of the Creation

this earthiness, this connectedness, this koinonia is at the heart of God’s coming to us in Jesus and in every word he says – we flee from the Swmron in the Mount for it confronts us with the call to a radical vulnerability with one another. Yet it is only in such vulnerability that we discover our life, that we are open to that which is. That we might know God and thus Live.

Christian Existence and Modern Existence 5 – the Modern Subversion of our Life

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
5. How Modernity shaped and radically subverted the Church and Christian faith

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

Last time we considered technology – and the way in which we and our sense of who we are is altered by the tools that we use. The old saying, that ‘to a man with a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail’ illustrates this, or to use a particularly contemporary example regarding a hot debate in American culture, it is not true to say that it is not guns that kill people, but people who kill people, for a person with a gun is Not the same as a person without a gun and having handled on and indeed used one, I have a sense of that which I speak. So those who carry guns have an alarming but not entirely unexpected propensity to shoot other people.

So too the smart phone has changed people – with suggestions that research is revealing a dramatic loss of empathic capability amongst the generation of those who use them. Whilst it is presented to us as a means of connection, ur current understanding is that at the non conscious or deep level of our experiencing the world, the level at which our True apprehension of things is formed, they do no such thing. Hence youngsters tied to their phones are at the forefront of the modern epidemic of loneliness and loss of empathy. For none of us is our words. Purely reading a text never makes a person present. You may read these words and have no sense that I wrote them and this seems to be the way which we respond at a deep level to all text, it is at the level of Experience, radically depersonalised, explaining of course why we might say something by text we would never say to someone’s Face, or Person.

And as the Psalmist puts it, we become like that which we create Ps 115:8 – and above all we have created a culture, which is perhaps unique in human history for its tendency to unreflective self reinforcing, faced continually as we are with a World we have created in our increasingly distorted image. This huge change is in large part down to the burning of fossil fuels which has given us Promethean power over the created order. The more technical power we have acquired the more we have come to trust in it and mimic it in our day to day existence. The more technical the culture becomes the more it suggests itself to us as ‘life’ So we talk about systems of care for example – people we say need to be trained in empathy – and hardly notice that that which which seemed once to be natural to us, has become a matter of Technical prowess. As I spoke last week about the terrible Alienation of ‘paying for Spiritual direction’ – people acquiring the ‘skills’ – this surrender to technique now inhabits the realm of the Spirit. No longer does the Spirit blow where it will, for we have harnessed even the Spirit to our own ends. In this sense at least the Jesuit philosopher Tehard de Chardin was right. Even God now comes under our direction . . .
by way of example I refer to the Alpha course, wherein the Holy Spirit is asked to wait in the wings until called upon on the weekend away . . .

out technical mastery has shaped a culture so that it fits ‘us’ – yet it has also made us technical – for we cannot make that which we cannot see . . . the technical culture fits us perfectly because ‘all who make them shall become like them’ – it poses no challenge to us, and in a sense therefore we have fallen asleep. The shower is the perfect temperature, everything is so adjusted to our taste that we disappear, or fall asleep – yet Jesus is the One who wakes us up. Note our reading from John’s gospel this last Sunday.
Jesus told [his disciples], ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.

What is Jesus doing here? He is pointing out the deep truth of our existence apart from him – in separation from him – a both Martha and Mary say, ‘If you have been here my brother would not have died’ Jesus IS Life. Thus his presence awakens us from the sleep of death. He must speak to the surface of things that the disciples might begin to understand – he told them ‘plainly’ (the surface meaning) ‘Lazarus is dead’

The Anglican solitary Maggie Ross speaks of our condition thus ‘the human race is sleepwalking into extinction’ She goes on regarding our sleep ‘The list of stupidities we know about is endless; it is terrifying to ponder how many we have not recognised. Yet we continue blithely to ignore those issues we DO know about . . .and goes on to list all those things which we know are happening but to which we do not respond – as if we are asleep.’ This failure to See, to Behold, is of course also a parallel of Spiritual death, which is at the heart of the passage regarding Lazarus

And this sleep walking by those with access to the power, comes at a huge cost, caused by a radical disconnection from all that is, it amplifies that disconnection. Technical means only amplify the problem. The problem at heart is that we have become overwhelmingly technical – exerting power over that which is not us – And thus we flee anything that is discomforting, Reality – life – be it people who do not think as I do  but with whom I have no choice but to share my life, or icy wind and burning sun which I cannot flee from, or indeed God, who is radically Not Me, and for the purposes of our thinking today calls each one of us to be Changed, Calling us into that Life fully realised in the image and likeness of his Son.

For as much as some Christians like to think of themselves as ‘apart’ from the World – this I suggest is a manifest illusion, that all of us are more radically shaped by the fragmentation of Modernity than we might possibly imagine. As I have repeatedly stated I only talk of that which I know that I participate in, and I suggest that I am not alone in this. And thus the change that has all but overwhelmed the World in Modernity has also so all but overwhelmed the Western Church as well, such that Christian Existence now mirrors Modern existence in many ways

As ‘Modern’ technology, which I suggest is itself the fruit of changes in the Western philosophical systems of the Church right back in the C13, has radically shaped our perception of ourselves as human beings, so too it has radically shaped our expression of the faith, and this week we shall consider some of the broad themes of this change, but it would help first to recognise once more the true nature of Christian Existence as expressed in the Great Commandment, bearing in mind the simple description of Modernity as  a ‘culture of things in separation’.

We remind ourself of the Crucified Human – Held in place between ‘Heaven and Earth’, betwixt God and the mud of Creation – and between the neighbours.

It is worth I think especially now as we come to the Great Feast of our Faith Easter, considering how Contrary to the ‘gospel of sleep’ such existence is – such that we actually try and distance ourselves from such Christian Existence, and The Cross.  Christ we might say ‘suffered on our behalf’ BUT, if as we have explored it is in the Crucified human that we see the True Human – or the Glory of God (‘A human being fully alive’) then perhaps there is something Essential in Suffering as part of the truly human condition? Yet we employ technical means to get away from any discomfort . . . say the discomfort of our car being a couple of degrees to warm or cold.

For one who is fully healed, it is that suffering self emptying towards neighbour, and neighbour, to the care of the Earth and thus to the glory of God – for those who are being healed it is the way to this Reconciliation, this ‘participation in the wounds of Christ’ which we call Koinonia. The Suffering of Shared Life is the vehicle of Life.

To quote Father Stephen Freeman – [Koinonia] is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution); it is not the dream of a better world (it is the willingness to live in the present one). It is family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer. It is transformative but not as political solution. {That is you cannot make this into a system . . .]
put another way the givenness of life is the Way to Life. Awkward people, and situations, these present themselves to us as a way of Growth
To refer briefly to my annual address, this is the Ordinary nature of our existence as Church – it is the fabric from which life springs. How can ‘Suffering’ thus understood be thought of as Evil?  It is only because those who wield huge power over their own existence have radically disconnected themselves from Koinonia, that suffering is thought of in this way – most especially the suffering of Christ. It is a radical flight from Participation in the Life of the World – a denial of Christ himself.

Now as this week I am reflecting on how the Modern project – initiated let us not forget by the Church – has distorted our faith – Christ and him Crucified is as good a place to pause and reflect

We seem to have two accounts of Christ and the Cross prevalent in our day.
One is to understand the Crucifixion of Jesus as some kind of private legal arrangement  between God and his son – one might call this a form of cosmic technology – God’s way of fixing things. This takes many hues, but all one way or another leave us outside of the story. God in Jesus does something in separation from us – the effect of which he then somehow ‘imputes to us’, ‘by faith’ (and let us not forget how that term has become purely a set of ideas). This is I suggest in contrast with the Deep Tradition of the Church Wherein Christ passes to us His Life, His Existence.
The other common way of understanding the Cross is to suggest, following Moltmann, that God is not alien from OUR sufferings, and chooses in this way to share in them . . . again this is problematic – for it does not posit any shared life between God and ourselves, or Koinonia. God might be understood for example as an objective observer, the unmoved mover, to whom Suffering is Alien – who steps in to help. It does not suggest that Suffering is in anyway part of the Essence of God – as if the Cross is some form of aberration. This I think is theologically Highly problematic, not least in the praxis of Care for the weak, in which we the unmoved Centres of our own lives, as a moral duty help those ‘less fortunate than ourselves’.
I will return to this next week when we consider seeds of hope – but for now, let us just say that we have a problem in the church with the Cross of Christ, which is more than troublesome, for as we know all four evangelists give most of their space up to this week in the life of Jesus.

This disconnection (‘Modern’) leads many to ignore the Cross altogether – and indeed it may well be seen to be absent in many contemporary accounts of Christian faith. Somehow we might assert it is about God’s Love, but so in love are we with being asleep –  that how Love is revealed in the blood and sweat and broken sinews and bones of the crucifixion of a first century Palestinian Jew is quite beyond us – that the Cross might Truly be the revelation of the true nature of our lives seems the most ludicrous assertion. That the Way of the Cross might actually be the Way of Love

This leads us on then to the centre of the distortion. As we have considered, ‘Modernity’ which is now several hundred years old, effectively takes the Human down from the cross. No longer for our existence do we need consider our neighbour, or the Creation, or God. To say that this is an illusion and a most powerful one at that may go without saying, but I think we must recognise that these are the non-conscious assumptions underlying most of our lives. We can and do talk of the importance of ‘Economic Independence’ without realising that this is an oxymoron. That the Oiko-nomos, ‘Way of the Household’ is one of shared existence.

The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the Consumer goods by which we are consumed, the land which was exploited to produce them, the people who made them . . . these are now hidden from us, and we may well believe that we are ‘independent individuals’ – Not held in place by Deep and Essential mutual Obligation – which we dare to call Love (which has come to mean little more than a vague sensation, like a pleasant form of heartburn . . .).

This disconnection from God, neighbour and Creation, this Alienation, has led to a collapse of the Soul into the Self. No longer held in place we collapse into ourselves and look out at the world as ‘objective’ observers’ of life. Understanding ourselves as at the Centre of things, looking out. A few weeks ago in conversation with some Christian young people I asked – ‘what is the point of being a Christian. Their universal answer mimicked that of much contemporary Christian faith and indeed increasingly its apologetics, ‘I know that there is someone their for me . . .’ In other words, their self perception is of being at the centre of their existence, or, put another way utterly comfortable and imagining God as the one who confirms them in that comfort. ‘There for me’

– and this has had radical implications not only for our world but indeed for our faith which has become a matter of ‘changing the world’ rather than the hard work of as we are able, changing ourselves. For one looking out on a world of things, the temptation to rearrange, to fix, is all but impossible to resist. Of course the lack of Power over things prior to the widespread availability of energy from fossil fuels held us in place, but the philosophical, abstract wheels had begun to turn and we were leaning that our life was not with the other.

The idea that We look out on the world and are empowered to change it is a modern conceit, largely brought about by the huge yet temporary energy supplied by burning fossil fuels – which for those who have access to them, suggests the idea that we can indeed do anything! (Yet ignoring the vast cost to all those un named unknown human beings who are enslaved to the Promethean projects of the Modern world)

And so we hear almost all the time ‘We are building the Kingdom of God!’ or ‘we need new strategies for church growth’, or ‘this is how we will fix the Diocese’ . . . Or we tinker with liturgy or songs – fixing things ‘out there’ so that they conform to what is ‘in here’, because of course, God likes things the way I like them as well 🙂

I remember someone once telling me what sort of music we should have in church today, because ‘that is what young people like’ – the person of course was expressing their own preference 🙂

This theme of ‘Power over’ has its roots of course in The Great Schism. Which was a matter of assertion of Power. For Pope Leo IX to assert not only that he was ‘primus inter pares’, but instead pontifex maximus – Supreme Over the church – led to the human radically asserting Power over, which requires a separation from in abstraction. It requires us to judge the other, though we cannot know them, It requires us to imagine that things are ours, rather than God’s. The idea that we might hold all things in trust for the good of the Earth and for others is to say the least far from our minds on a day to day basis, yet it is the truth of our being in the World

And this move to Power Over tore the fabric of the Creation. We were as it were back in the garden making the oldest mistake – making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to [us] in our constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united.
One can only assert power over when one loses sight of Life Together – that our Life is with our Brother – and that we have no life apart from the breath of God manifested in the winds and the waves – and the mud of the Earth . . . That is the Sacramental nature of our existence.

As you may recall in Week one we explored briefly how the Great Schism had led almost immediately to the doctrine of transubstantiation – and here we may note how language plays an important role within faith and how we See. To step back from the Eucharist – if this is possible – for a moment. As I have mentioned once or twice – the move to separation on things also leads to changes in languages. So to take but one example which is very significant to us, the Hebrew word  ר֫וּחַ ‘ruach’ We might translate this ‘Wind’, or ‘Spirit’ or ‘breath’. It is language which assists us in Sacramental imagination – yet we might ask – ‘which do you mean? Wind or Spirit or Breath?’ To have but one word is to assert the provisionality of language in speaking the Truth – a provisionality which in humility assents to the hidden Truth.
So we see how the issue regarding the Sacrament is about demanding that something hidden reveal itself. Is it Bread and Wine, or is it the body and blood of Christ is the question of an imagination which believes in the Power of language over Creation. [noting briefly that Adam’s naming of the animals needs to be understood as the functioning of his prelapsarian Sight – he can See – he Beholds the Truth of things and so can name]
And so we began a move away from a Sacramental perception of Creation – which led in time to our loss of reverence for it – that when our power over Creation increased, so we destroyed that which had been given to give us Life.

This shift is of First Order significance that our faith – our faith is a matter of materiality. our embodied existence. Disconnection from the soil and the labour of Work also disembodied us and our faith which increasingly became a thing of only the conscious mind. In a sense this is the root of what we call the secular world, with Religious faith’ relegated to the world of ‘private opinion’, but of course this was only exacerbated by the increased move to urbanisation away from the Land. But also the role of the body in Christian existence became less and less apparent. Last week as we studied Father Stephen’s book and read about Ikons we were reminded of how prostration before an Icon was quite unexceptional in Orthodoxy, which we found at best odd, yet perhaps it was sobering to reflect how little our bodies were any longer necessary to our worship – or indeed we might think the bodies of others as here and there ‘virtual church’ sprang up where only were

So embodied was early Christian existence that it was the Christians who turned the Romans from their universal practise of cremation with its inherently violent posture towards the body. I remember myself sharing with a former teaching colleague how my visit as a seminary student to a Crematorium and my observation of the process had led me to reconsider my own insouciant disregard in this respect. To my saying ‘I can no longer wholly accept such a practise as Christian’ he replied as I would have done only a few months previously – ‘but its only a shell for your soul . . .’ Becoming alert to how modernity had shaped our understanding so radically, I turned to his wife who had grown up in rural Zambia. ‘Akfuna,’ I asked, ‘your people don’t think of things in this way do they?’ ‘They most certainly do not!’ she replied, and thus a gulf in world view opened up, but I suggest a very critical one. our bodies are as it were the realm of our faith, that place indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God and of course that which is the seed of the resurrection body. the destruction of bodies in flame was universally condemned as a practise of the Gentiles, the nations amongst whom Israel found herself, but never her practise.

it is interesting in this respect the comment of the british playwright Dr Jonathan Miller regarding life after death, ‘ I cannot believe in it, for how would we know one another apart from our bodies?’ Thereby revealing the modern Western approach, and yet acknowledging the importance of our bodies, that we ARE our bodies. or rather that the Soul is a composite of Body Mind and Spirit, or if you like our very being is Sacramental, woven together.

One brief further point I think it is worth pondering in this regard – although in a moment we shall consider the shift to words ahead of silence – one form of ‘wording’ has largely gone by the board which is that of Confession. As on the one hand we have become more wordy, more god like in our creating a world out of words within the church, we have become perhaps less able to truly grow into our Gifted participation in god’ life because of our failure to comprehend what it is to confess our sins one to another that we might be healed. Spoken confession to another Christian was from the first seen as a primary form of healing, The collapse of the Cruciform self into The Self has led to a sense that there is nothing to be confessed, that we do not in any sense need to be healed.
My own experience in this area has brought me to consider this again as a very embodied thing. If we consider the ‘physical form’ of demons, anyone who has attentively confessed their sins will not a certain driving out that which is ‘named’

Anyway, all of this I suggest leaves us with a very significant question, What if our faith is in reality, no more and no less than an embodied argument about the very nature of Reality and Existence in the World. As Pilate says ‘Behold! The Man!’ humanity Revealed in Jesus in his essential [sic] embodied humanity, so too the Church, the Body of Christ is called to be such a Revealing . . .

The shift in the perception away from the sacramental also led to a move away from the Church as being the visible body of Christ. Now the Sacrament was ‘magicked’ into the Real visible body of Christ, rather than sacramentally present in bread and wine, the visible sign of christ – the community of is disciples, became less significant and by the time of the Reformation – against the abuses of the Institutional church which it was hard to see and consider as The Body of Christ, the Reformers would talk of ‘the invisible’ the true church. As faith had become a thing in the mind and thus all but disembodied, so to the Church was no longer understood in bodily terms.

Two further changes took place in different ways associated with the loss of the Sacramental understanding of the Eucharist. Firstly the role of the priests was elevated above the laity. A gulf which to be frank persists to this day. No one who has been ordained will be unaware from their own side of how this changes the dynamic. Whilst ways have been suggested to ‘empower’ the laity – usually by emphasising their ministry in the world, this has been to the detriment of the understanding of the priesthood of all believers, because we no longer have an understanding of the office and work of a priest, except increasingly as a church manager. IF the church is as the apostle states, a kingdom of priests, then perhaps we need to consider again what this might mean for the Church. Secondly, as the Reformers had reacted against the power of the priests, so too they did against the Eucharist. It became an object of suspicion regarding any form of devotion towards this, the life blood of the church in earlier ages. And so today it is not uncommon for some Christians never to partake of the body and blood of Christ, yet if ours is a material faith then perhaps we might take Jesus’ words on this matter with a degree more seriousness ‘Whoever eats me will live because of me’.

Power over and separation as we have already noted was encouraged by and led to ‘more words’. As our faith in the hidden Life available to us in the Eucharist was diminished, so we looked to things seen, or rather heard. The written words of the Scriptures seemed to offer that assurance which and The Bible as a separate artefact took the place of Tradition in its deepest sense. Father more this led to an ever increasing wordiness vs Silence. Words it was felt made things sure. Those who have had to endure the endless liturgical reform movement have been most aware of this. The drive to ,ake things mentally clear. The idea that words had a necessary provisionality to them lost in the demand for the certainty of literalism, something which we have explored in our book studies. Of course as faith was reduced to mental concepts and words then ‘arguments about words’ which St Paul himself warned Timothy ‘Remind others about these things, and warn them before God not to argue over words. Arguing does not do any good but only destroys those who are listening.’

How many ‘bible believing churches’ have been set up precisely in flagrant disbelief of the words of the apostle . . . And so a multiplicity of churches, the initial schism leading to schism upon schism in the search for certainty.

And I suggest to a complete inversion of the faith – from God being the Centre who is paradoxically everywhere present and filling all things, or as the saints of old had it, the Circle whose centre is everywhere and cisrumference nowhere – we have become the centre of faith – it seems to me to be a total perversion of that which was given for our salvation.

We are SO tuned to Looking out at a world of things – as the Centre – and our great power over creation trains us in seeing that outside of ourselves as that which we might manipulate. So it has become the Christian vocation not to change ourselves but to seek to change what is out there – the world. But The Way has been that as we are changed the world is saved – Seraphim of Sarov – acquire inner peace and a ten thousand around you will be saved.

but I think, more than this has been the loss of the perception of Christian Existence itself. Jesus words about eternal life, having become so disembodied, and dissociated from The Cross, have led us to fail to comprehend the deep significance of Life, Now. Not in the sense of ‘the significance of our lives, but a radical apprehension of the meaning of Christian Life. The ‘message of salvation has taken two turns in the wrong direction, either making OUR lives the centre of a this world existence, or understanding the meaning of faith to lie primarily outside of the span of our mortal years, rather than the growing into the full stature of Christ’s existence in the here and now. It is about the LIFE which Jesus gives to us NOW

A moments thought i think will reveal some of the truth of this – think for a moment how we are given to understand ourselves as choosing this that or the other for ourselves, free from constraints of almost anything – we chose where we will live, our work, with whom we will and will not share our lives, we chose whether or not we will have children, we choose what we eat, what we wear. Soon without doubt we shall have total freedom also to choose when we die. Choice is the benchmark of ‘Good’ in the world we inhabit, so free are we from constraint. So too we choose which church we will attend, indeed we are encouraged to choose that which best fits our personality type – thereby assuring us that we will be surrounded only by circumstances congenial to us, and thus in a Deep and paradoxical Sense rendered utterly passive, either truly acting nor being acted upon.

In what contrast to Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but rather emptied himself. Jesus did not look out and grasp, take hold of, as the First Adam had, rather he poured himself out, and ‘being found in human nature as a slave (no freedom there, became obedient to death, even the death of the cross . . .

Sermon for Palm Sunday – 2017 Year A


Matthew 21:1-11

‘Tell the daughter of Zion . . . Behold!’

For me, coming to New Zealand five years ago was an odd experience – for although we all spoke the same language, culturally we were different. As Mark Twain said of America and Britain, ‘two nations divided by a common tongue’ 🙂 But English is a very problematic language and this goes much further than how we pronounce our vowels 🙂 for English makes the Scriptures quite difficult to understand, not simply because they weren’t written in English.

The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and Greek (as well as a little Aramaic). Hebrew and Greek have about 1000 or ten thousand words respectively, yet there are more words in English than pretty much any other language in the world! (Over two hundred thousand!) So when we are trying to translate the New Testament from its ‘street Greek’, there are 20 times more words than in the original – or in the Hebrew – 400 times!!

The Hebrews and the Greeks were far less ‘wordy’ people. So each word they used encompassed a Wide range of meaning. Their World was one in which all sorts of things were woven together by a single word.
Take a simple example – the word ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, means Breath, it means Wind, it means Spirit . .  . and our question is ‘but which one does it mean here or here or here . . . but that is a nonsense question to one of the Hebrews. ‘Ruach means breath/wind/spirit! you Know??’ As if perhaps Breath Wind and Spirit were somehow woven together . . . I’ll come back to that idea of a single word revealing how things are woven together at the end

A big problem of English is that in settling on one word we miss so much of the meaning – if we translate Ruach as breath we miss Wind and Spirit for example, and sometimes it leads us to missing the point completely. So today in our gospel – we all heard ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

If I said to you that the word we translate as ‘Look’ occurred over 400 times just in the gospels, and that if we add it’s Hebrew equivalent, more than 1300 times in the whole scriptures . . . we might perhaps realise that this was a very important word, perhaps the most important word in all of the Bible  . . .but you won’t find ‘look’ over 400 in the gospels, or over 1300 times in the entire scriptures. we find ‘look’, ‘See’ ‘discern’ occasionally even ‘remember’. We have so many separate words we like to use them all and so things get separate.
But older translations like the King James Bible, which came from an age before English became so very very wordy use just one word over and over again . . . Behold! Over and over again ‘Behold!’ Behold the lamb of God, ‘and behold as Jesus came up from the waters’, ‘Behold, a vast multitude non could number, ‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, Behod, I am with you always, even to the end of the Age . . .

But what does Behold mean?? Well it’s like ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inpiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again. So that you were lost for words – for you could not contain it, rather It held you! Like a new born baby taking it all in and being Held. Behold!!

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold! your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey not even a donkey a mere colt, a donkey’s foal’ . . . your King comes to you as the lowest of the low – Your King . . .

As St Paul struggles to put this beholding into words he says this
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, to make use of it,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Behold the King on a donkey’s foal, emptying himself in utter humility – making himself nothing . . . even to the point of death on a cross . . .

Behold your King? Do you see?? SO Unlike a King by our standards – in fact the complete opposite – becoming the servant of all . . . But we didn’t get it, and perhaps we still don’t. For  ‘Behold’ we built huge cathedrals, and Behold our clergy dressed in fine robes – and Behold our bishops wear purple the colour of the Emperor . . .

as we as a Diocese consider who might be out new bishop . . . I wonder if we have eyes to Behold, to See . . . or are our eyes trained to look on the surface of things?? Who on that Palm Sunday would have seen this weary, dust covered itinerant Jewish preacher and possible miracle worker as in fact the one in whom, through whom and for whom ALL things had been created?? I don’t expect the donkey was much to look at either . . .

Did they see?? Just a few days later the crowd that cried Hosanna to the Son of David stood before the stone pavement of judgement, this man stripped to the waist and flogged mercilessly and with a crown of thorns thrust onto his head – and Pilate cries out ‘Behold, The Man’. In human terms you might almost say, there is nothing to see . . . in human terms.
Pilate without realising it invites the crowd to ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inspiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again.’
Behold!’ See into the Truth. Behold The Truth . . . what is Truth Pilate asks and doesn’t behold The Truth stood in front of him . . . and now the crowd cry ‘Crucify’ They do not Behold their King . . .

As i suggest this calls into question how we look at the world, how we consider ‘what we are looking for in a Bishop’ – I must admit, I haven’t seen anything in the documentation which suggests that we are looking beyond the surface of things – we want a miracle worker no doubt . . . but Do we know how to Behold, the Deep Truth of things, the Deep truth of a person?? Or are we just looking for someone to save the Diocese?? Remember the Jewish people were looking for such a King, and when they see Jesus, they reject him . . . do we behold, Do we see??

But let us Behold for a moment or two. ‘your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You King coming to you if you would but Behold! Yet he comes in humility – not offering himself to those looking for the spectacular – The word ‘humble’ – again it is just one word, but in Hebrew and Greek, it is humble, earthy, humus, soil, mud, it is Ordinary . . . in other word ‘humble’ is the stuff out of which everything is made – the stuff we see around us all the time and take for granted because it isn’t spectacular – because we do not behold. I am slowly, painfully slowly learning this – I can sit and Behold a tree for hours – as it ‘comes to me’ presents itself to me in all its Wonder Full Ordinariness . . . or Soil itself??
I remember a lovely piece of writing about an old metal bucket, which stayed forgotten on a hook under a tree and over the years leaves fell in it which slowly turned to soil and moss grew in it and bugs came to live in it, and occasionally a bird found a place for a nest in it, and the nest and the broken eggs added to the soil, which grew richer and deeper, slowly, without fuss, so you’d never notice – nothing to look at – Soil. But Soil Full of Life – Like the humble Jesus Full of Life but you wouldn’t have guessed . . . It is the Ordinary things which are the fabric, the soil, the humus, the humility out of which our lives come . . . Do we see our own ‘ordinary’ lives? Do we behold them?? With their joys, but also their sorrows? Their day by day quiet habits, a short prayer here, a phonemail to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a cup of tea with a friend . . . you see our Life if we Saw it is a thing of wonder, like that bucket of soil 🙂

If there is to be a future for the Diocese, it will come from those small things, for that is where all life comes from – the humble.

And that is The Truth of Things, for the Truth, the World’s King comes to US humble, Mounted on a donkey’s foal . . . and every Sunday in this worship we are so accustomed to, nothing special or flashy, this King consents to be handed over to us in a crumb of bread, a sip of wine . . . small, ordinary, humble things . . .

Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – woven together so that you cannot tell one form the other. What if we only had a word for Bread AND Body, a Word for Wine AND blood?? If we ate the Bread/body and drank the Wine/blood . . . God made flesh . . . All of creation heaven and earth woven together in Jesus, so that you cannot tell one from the other. As if in this Bread/Body and Wine/ Blood we Beheld Everything? Wind, breath, Spirit, woven together so you cannot tell one from the other, if we but had eyes to See, if we did but Behold!

Christian Existence and Modern Existence 4. ‘The medium is the message – Technology and the changed human’

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
4. ‘The Medium is the Message’
How our lives are shaped by the tools we use – and yes, I did say that . . .
Community, Economy, Technology, and Creation

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

In today’s talk I’m going to examine the significance of Technology for this question of human existence, especially with respect to the role it plays in our ‘Modern’ existence. In particular I shall consider five technologies most of which are so embedded in our everyday existence that we barely give them a moment’s thought. Indeed if I asked about our relationship with technology. they are the sort of things we might not even label as technologies, but technologies they are . . . So in due course we shall consider the technologies of ‘Money’, of the ‘Light bulb’, the ‘Clock’, the ‘Motor Car’, and ‘the cell phone’ (so at least one there which we might use the label technology for)

But in saying that we might not call them ‘technologies’ I suggest that we have become blind to the nature of the reality of our existence. In keeping with the tone of our previous talks on Community and The Economy, I am not here to praise these things in our lives, but to try if not bury them, at least help us to understand that there is no such thing as a neutral technology, and that all these seemingly innocuous aspects of our everyday existence carry deeply inhuman implications.

Now in speaking this way, I am opening myself up to the charge of ‘being a Luddite’ and of course to be a ‘Luddite’ in today’s world is to render oneself either the object of ridicule, or, perhaps worse, to suggest that anything one has to say can instantly be dismissed. (Of course this is one of the ways we use, or are used by one of our primary technologies, language – and language and technology are closely related . . . but perhaps another time.)

Actually if you wish to label me a Luddite, then I gladly accept what you may perceive to be an insult – for the Luddites are people who would speak to us and cal into question our blind acquiescence with regard to Technology, and their critique would I suggest speak directly to our primary concern, this matter of Christian Existence.

Let us rehearse this again – Christian Existence which is I suggest the Truth of our Human Existence is revealed in The Great Commandments – to in our condition of ‘of the earth’ to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourself. To know that our life can only be known with respect to the Creation, in all its Wonder, our neighbours – people with whom we share in Life, and God. And that that existence is perfectly Manifested in the World in the Crucified Man-God, Jesus Christ.

Well, The Luddites I suggest got this. The Story of the Luddites opens up to us significant evidence of the way in which our Life Together, this Koinonia which is the Goal of all things in Christ Jesus, is radically subverted if not completely destroyed.

The Luddites so named were a loose affiliation of ‘machine wreckers’, specifically knitting machines. People who found that their skills were no longer required for the particular task of knitting stockings. As before wealthy and powerful people found ways to increase their profits by removing at least in part the human from the picture. The introduction of such machines left those with the human skills and crafts to knit stockings without work, in the same way that in the rural context the turning over of land first to sheep, but later following the development of tractors etc. turned people off the land, and disconnected us from a direct and mutual relationship with the Creation. Of course many of those who turned to various crafts as knitting and weaving were the descendants of those who had once lived on the land.
So as a protest against what was happening – gangs of ‘machine wreckers’ would break in to factories at dead of night to do violence to the direct cause of their unemployment. There was no violence against the person until the powers that be stepped in and opened fire in 1812 on a group of wreckers, it having become a capital offence to destroy a machine (and we may well ask what understanding of the human is operative in that decision) By hanging and various punishments the movement was after a period of years quelled.
What was really was at stake here is disputed. The movement was dispersed with no recognisable leader, named after the first machine wrecker, Nedd Ludd.
Were ‘they’ against Technology per se? This is unclear they had no voice as such. Certainly part of the complaint of the Luddites was that the stockings so produced by the new machines were of an inferior quality. And of course we might say that they were not against technology in and of itself, after all, did they not use tools??
Here there is a very significant point to be made about the difference between tools and machines – and more particularly how human beings relate to them, and the language of relationship is not inappropriate. For to follow an argument by Hannah Arendt in xxxxx (See Nick Cage) ‘tools serve humans, extending their capabilities, but humans serve machines’, and we Might say that machines Also extend human capabilities – but we Must note that Alienation has crept into the picture. That same Alienation which is implicit in the division of our Existence into Public and private PSheres, or The Economy. Certainly machines largely do not serve the particular humans who for want of employment must serve them – and become radically deskilled in the process. The dignity of a machine operator who ‘pushed buttons’ on a machine which makes a table is a very much lesser thing than the engagement of a craftsman who wield his tools to make the same table. The human as Agent in the world, as Actor is radically diminished – and with the loss of Agency comes also the lack of ‘Responsibility’. Also implicit is the theory that the ends justify the means – within a machine economy. If the end is to produce a million identical tables, then machines are the most effective, cheapest way to do so – and the consequent loss of meaningful work, or unemployment, or loss of trades and skills built up often over millennia is a loss we are told we must bear.
It is worthy of note that at the same time as the Luddites, in France, in the name of ‘Freedom, Equality, and kinship’ the Terror was unleashed. Ends justifying means, in an increasingly abstract milieu.

Also briefly worthy of note are a community who have successfully withstood the technological determinism of our age, namely the Amish community of Pennsylvania in the United States. They too this day ask a key question of any technology before they permit its use, namely – ‘what will this do to our community?’ It is a think a Good question. If the goal is Koinonia – mutual flourishing in community, then perhaps the story implicit in the technology might work against that. So as we consider the use of all the technologies we shall consider is highly limited in Amish society, if not outright banned.

How we might ask do the Amish get away with this, where the Luddites did not? Simply this. Living on the land they can and do feed themselves . . . living in English cities, all manufacturing workers could always be, and often were, starved into submission . . . for the good of course of ‘The Economy’. Separated out from the Land which is given to sustain the Human, the human becomes a slave (this is one way certainly of reading the Egypt narrative) But what is more, being still of the land, their perception of things is I suggest deeper – they see more clearly what is going on around them – so they would not be prone to say ‘it’s not the technology that is the issue, it is the use we put it to . . .’ as so many are prone to do, for they see technologies in the whole – Actually in reality it is nearer to the truth to say that technologies use us . . .
[See Michael Leunig Cartoon]

Much as our lives are largely controlled by the narratives of ‘The Economy’, so too all technologies come with an implicit agenda, an account of what it means to be a human being – they shape and define our existence . . . It is a neurological necessity to at least have a sense that we are in control of our existence – the truth of the matter is far more troubling, at least to a Modern disconnected person

The Catholic philosopher and writer Albert Borgmann who has a particular interest in this area writes about what he calls ‘The Device Paradigm’ – that is the set of ideas which are embodied in technologies and helpfully uses the example of something dear to the heart of New Zealanders . . . (the unfortunately named) Central heating 🙂 Well it IS a case of ‘be careful of what you wish for’ . . .
So consider a house which is centrally heated – the first this we might notice of course is that is it ALL warm, or can be – but we may find it difficult to find a place where people gather. Rather like the story of how the Manor House became a place of non-shared space – so if everyone’s room is warm, then no one has to be, or indeed IS in the same space . . .

Some years ago I took a short course and we had ‘ice-breaker’ questions [it is interesting to note how frosty our relating is suggested to be by this ‘arbitrary’ choice of words  . . .] One of which was – what image does ‘warm place’ conjour up for you? Most people spoke about gathering around the family fire or Aga – Certainly in the house we lived in before coming to New Zealand the kitchen was the warm centre of the room because we had an Aga there . . . the heating was truly Central . . . Central heating, so called does suggest that it is a matter of indifference whether or not people gather together . . . but as Borgmann also says, this is not all

In the days when wood had to be cut etc. it was one of a number of shared household chores – and cutting wood was one which might fall to the boys of the family, but only after an apprenticeship in ‘the ways of the axe’ from their father. This is one significant expression of ‘true economy’ to pick up on the comments form our talk last week. Intergenerationality was built into a more embodied way of being in the world (something which is a topic worth much further consideration – that dis-embodied existence is profoundly non-intergenerational – but another time) And also labour was a form of engagement with the world. Think now how we speak of ‘exercise’ as a thing amongst many things – the Modern World, rather than ‘Work’ which found its place as inseparable from Existence.

And so to our five technologies

And a reminder about Technologies. No Technologies are neutral – they all come with a story of what it means to be human – but if we pay no attention to that – which as I suggest we cannot as we have lost our sense of what it is to be human, then indeed we may use them far too readily . . .

Money if a profound form of Alienating Abstraction. It reduces people and other aspects of the Creation to often highly arbitrary ‘values’. It is also a tool used for the diminishment of our human specificity.

Money gets between. This is one of the hallmarks of all technologies from the simplest tools, and it is worth noting that there is a critique of tools in the Scriptures, to the most complex of machines or computer systems, (or their humanoid equivalent, bureaucracies) , Tools intervene creating space between the humankind and the creation. So too, money and where force of circumstance, say people being cleared from the land on which they might grow food, creates separation, money readily fills the gap, and with it an impersonalisation. The Price is the Price. It is you might say radically disinterested, for it is oblivious to your need or your ability to pay the price.

it is also alienating for it disconnects you from your labour. Your work in a money economy becomes something separate from you, in that you might sell it, in effect give it away or perhaps even more truthfully give yourself away, for money.
This point perhaps needs a slight qualification, that it assumes a degree of choice on the part of the one who so offers their labour. If one has no choice because the circumstances of the money economy demand you need money to eat, then of course the association of the person and their work becomes tighter, or better, more apparent – ‘Wage slavery’

Money only has any import where Koinonia is unknown. In the realm of shared life, a shared economy in the sense of ‘The Way of the House’, our lives are bound together in mutual provision and reception – Life in its fulness we may perhaps say

which is why, Jesus ‘in whom al things hold together’, apart from whom we cannot know what it is to be human or to be part of the Creation notoriously wouldn’t touch it, a fact lost on man of Money’s disciples. ‘You cannot serve . . .’ note again that theme of serving which is intimately associate with worship. Jesus wouldn’t touch Money – he touched people.

Well there is a lot more we might say about money – about how it denies human difference – it is no respecter of persons. If your labour can be exchanged for the same amount of money as that person’s labour, then you are reduced to identical units of Economic production . . . in this regard, to take perhaps a slightly contentious note it is worth considering the question of ‘Equality’ That men and women should be paid the same for the same work is in a sense utterly inarguable – yet note what has happened. Any note of difference has disappeared – Male/Female distinctions are irrelevant to The Economy – which may be perhaps why more and more people start talking about Gender as if in reality it doesn’t exist?? But also note that That way of looking at equality, A) Serves Money – it takes Money as the God which must determine our worth, and B) has taken both men and Women away from the oikos, the Home, which used to be a place of shared existence and labour. It is no longer just the prodigal Son who has demanded his right to leave home, he has been joined by his sister, and both are equally liberated to eat the scraps which feed the pigs . . .

The Motor Car
I have already alluded to the way in which Wendell Berry saw the arrival of the motor car into Rural community. Now all of a sudden ‘you could go where you liked’ Or so the story goes. A few years ago I had a peculiar sensation sat in what is now ‘Copper’ by the mAori Hill roundabout. The strangest thought went through my head – as hundreds of cars wen through the interchange over a period of an hour, every single one went down one of three routes off the roundabout – with a car you cannot go where you want to go, you can only go where someone else has built a road . . .

now this rather odd thought I think illustrates something which I should perhaps have touched on last time, that is the demonic myth of ‘economic independence’ – the sense that we are ‘Kings and Queens of all we survey’. This I suggest is a double blind. Firstly as the example of the roads illustrate we do not have absolute freedom of choice – rather we are corralled into ways of being in the world – which may well explain to a level why there is so much dissatisfaction and mental illness – we are supposed to ‘have it all’ yet if this is IT?? IT doesn’t seem worth the candle, so to speak 🙂

But secondly  – our (mythical) independence comes at a huge cost to so many others. As people use their cars to go where they want, from of association based on Shared life collapsed. People no longer constrained to ‘make their own entertainment amongst themselves’ are now drawn away to the movies – a largely passive experience which next to no shared content. How infrequently for example will a crowd at the cinema even stand to applaud? (Or sing the National anthem 🙂 ) Those who had no cars were left behind – and note how ‘public transport’ is always for the poor . . . those who cannot afford to participate in The Economy.

But also that our ‘independence’ comes at a huge cost to others, the people who live by the Aluminum smelter, the ludicrous energy costs of producing Aluminium, the rivers and air polluted by the oil products that coat and fuel the car, the people cleared off land that was theirs for generations by corporations ‘for the Common Good . . .’ by common laws, as St Thomas More told us last week.

The biggest cause of pedestrian deaths . . . the motor car
The creation of a space which is all may own – away from the world, as cars are made ever more quiet – more and more disengagement. You don’t even have to shovel coal into the boiler . . . This is a good illustration of how technologies shape the way in which we encounter the world and this how we begin to ‘see’ the world, and finally how we begin to create the world. So now we have our own personalised musical experience brought to us, at a price, by Spotify . . .

The Light bulb –

There is lovely story I believe to be true, told about the introduction of electric light – something I doubt many if any of us remember. In the late 1950’s the electric supply companies finally reached the remote upper Yorkshire Dales. Up there on the moors, not far from Bronte Country in the Pennines, there are a number of very remote dwellings, in which lived an old country woman, all alone, tending her few animals.

A few months after the installation of the supply and the obligatory electric lights, she was visited by someone sent to read her meter – who noted she had used but a couple of units. Somewhat puzzled he asked if she had been using her new lights, ‘Oh yes’ she replied,’ I find them most useful. Now when it gets dark I can switch a light on for a couple of moments which makes finding my matches much more easy!’ 🙂

Well this amusing tale of course features someone who isn’t against technology per se, but only in so far as it makes a meaningful difference to her existence. A solitary Amish we might say 🙂

Recently on retreat I studied and slept in a cabin which had no electric light – I relied on candles at night and I can tell you, you need a lot of tea lights to provide enough light to read by! The Electric light bulb radically altered human existence and more, human consciousness. Before that there were candles which were limited in their capacity to provide light, and which thereby provided a rhythm to the day – there were times for labour and study, and times for other activities which it might be said better engaged aspects of our being not accessed in the full glare of the sun – for example prayer and contemplation. [Jesus had a habit of rising to pray whilst it was yet dark – we take this to mean that ‘he had a busy day ahead of him, yet might it rather be that the dark is more conducive to prayer??]

If your evenings are perhaps given to knitting or quiet contemplation, then electric light isn’t of significnace. But if as we have repeatedly said, you do not have an account of human existing, a defining story, and a shared story at that, then of course technologies lead us into paths which perhaps may well not be to our benefit. Certainly if this old lady were typical then electrical supply would not be the big business it is today!

And again we come upon the theme of Alienation – in a sense the heart of ‘The Fall’ – Cutting us off from the Creation. Let us consider shift work, for example, Now it is not the Church unceasing as the world turns which rests not day nor night, it is the economic machine, with only deleterious effects on the people who work through the night. Various studies about such massive disruption to our inbuilt rhythms only show negative outcomes for health and well being. On the one hand this is good news though, of it shows that actually the human IS limited, IS at some level a creature of Creation, given to Evening and morning, but at what cost?

The Clock

One lament which may go up in response to these talks is, ‘well you cannot turn the clock back’ One understanding of our existence which the clock brings with it is an implication that Time is somehow going somewhere – the myth of human progress. Yet it is a myth which ironically misses out ‘the Human’ – for let us suggest for a moment that there was a catastrophic collapse in the water supply system? We would surely find the clock going back very rapidly indeed. As one of my former mentors would put it – you think human beings are civislied and advanced beyond ‘cave men’? Cut of the water supply and in three days people will be killing one another for a bottle of water’ [Another example of the madness of ‘The Economy’]

As we started this survey regarding the modern World, I made it clear that it was changes in the Church which triggered this – and so to with regard to time and its accurate measurement. As the disconnection of Rome from the East, of the Sacramental Unity of bread and Wine with the body and blood of Christ was ruptured, so too everything was broken into smaller and smaller divisions, and along with that there was a growing development of Law, of imposing the will upon nature and our fellow man which had a direct impact on the church.
Clocks after all are incredibly useful for getting monks out of bread for their prayers. How can you ‘Regulate’ (lay down the law about) prayer ‘better’, but by the clock . . . yet this technology itself had a deleterious effect on the wider world, most especially under the press of the Industrial revolution, for in the Machine, Time found a perfect partner in the business of dehumanisation. The measurement of time became one of the prime ways of determining the value of work.

In the early days, where workers had been used to producing a set number of units in a day. the introduction of the clock had a beneficial effect -[Kallenberg] for having speeded up their work and produced the daily units, the workers went off to fish or read, or generally recreate 🙂 But factory managers thought this a travesty! So work came by the hour, so workers then completed their work and then idled in the factories until home time – so then of course the number of units required was increased – more bricks, and this time without straw . . . The mechanisation of labour led increasingly to the mechanisation of the person as labour was increasingly measured and determined by the clock.

And of course the clock, as with the light bulb further disconnected the human form the Creation – for after all, as with money where a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, so too the clock, an hour is an hour be it first thing in the morning, or indeed he middle of the light.

Nothing has turned us more into machines than the clock – until now –

Cell (smart) phones
Every other form of technology we have considered has come in relatively slowly, yet from out of nowhere, Cell phones are almost universally present. We cannot be with other people and not either have our conversation interrupted, or indeed largely ignore each other because of the cell phone – which is now, only a little over a decade a reality, a ubiquity.

Just the other day I walked down George Street and out of interest checked out smart phone use – between 35 and 40 percent of the people I counted were visibly carrying smart phones

And they are changing the way we relate to one another at an extraordinary rate. It is not uncommon for me for example to receive a text containing information which should be relayed face to face, for example – but it is affecting us bodily – we all now know that a human being looks like this {cell phone pose} and several years ago now I was informed by one of our local undertakers that people’s bodies had a new crease, under the chin. So our post mortem appearance tells a story. A story which is true of all technologies from the simplest tools to the most complex devices – that we at some level become one with the device – we lose our sense of otherness with regard to it. So a master craftsman whilst attending to the care of his tools, will in the act of crafting something lose conscious perception of the tool, rather knowing his material in and through a fusion of himself with the tool, so too we become unaware of our fusing with our smart phones. How many of us for example have food ourselves looking at the screen without consciously thinking ‘I ought to get out my phone’? And its highly impersonal way of communicating becomes our way of communicating. Words are the least personal form of communicating, arising as they do in the Left hemisphere of our brains, the one which deals in abstractions. As a word is not the thing to which is refers but our reaching towards the thing, perhaps with regard to having power over ‘it’, so text cannot convey a person.

What we know of language and its development is that the more complex a spoken language, the more abstract and disconnected from the reality of our existence it becomes. Our deep dependence on the technology of language reveals in a sense our deep discomfort with one another. In Truth it is only those who sit in companionable silence without the need to speak who might be said to be approaching an understanding of one another.

This is revealed in neurological research. Our for want of a better word, and it is a poor word, ‘primitive’ brain structures, are those best attuned to the presence of another, even to the point of recognising the presence of someone without seeing hearing or touching them. The natural response to the presence of another, measurable by electrical means, diminishes by 70% in response to the voice of another apart from their physical presence. It disappears completely if all we ‘see’ is text. (hence it is pure conceit to say that you can Know another person through their writing, for all you have access to is an abstraction.)

Of course earlier generations knew this well. The use of the word ‘know’ for sexual relations was not a euphemism. it pointed to the depth of engagement. Something which has disappeared in our word obsessed culture as ‘sex’ becomes pure ‘thing’ in a world of things – made entirely explicit as is we could ‘see it all’ we are blind to one another and to true Knowledge. As we are aware this is happening around us all the time in so many ways. The shift to a smart phone existence has already led to dramatic losses in empathy, the ability to truly acknowledge that which is not you – and of course a corresponding increase in narcissism. The Objectification of others in their words and in pictures of them has radically depersonned us

What is more the cell phone is so ubiquitous that we can see the rapid change in people’s lives as the lat few places globally out of their reach is conquered. So a friend who ministers in The Solomon Islands is watching with horror as people’s lives change overnight with the adoption of cel phones – he is watching deep attentiveness disappearing as people become fixated on screens, he is seeing how the Community collapses and ‘private space takes over’ as for example pornography, previously unknown becomes a Live issue out of nowhere as people can access it with their phones . . .

Also education – and the Apple approved school – despite a) no account of what a human is b) no account of what ‘education’ is or is for, based of course on no account of what a human being is as they take over and transform education from a form of apprenticeship and learning, to an accumulation of facts, as if people came themselves with ‘pre-installed’ software which enabled them to choose – of course they are also being educated in reading texts for ‘sterotypes and gender issues . . .

The Luddites
Something deeper, not picked up in any accounts but I think a human/Christian perspective – we become like that which we serve – or worship . . . Jesus directs us to the service of God and our fellow, that we might grow more and more into HIs Likeness through mutual love and praise – machines call for our service, worship either enforced or freely given. Is it not possible that somewhere deep in the heart of the Luddites was the apprehension that the technological age was an inappropriate arena of service for the human?

Christian Existence and Modern Existence. 3. ‘It’s The Economy, Stupid!’ The demonic distortion of economy in ‘Modernity’

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
3. ‘It’s the Economy. stupid!’
The devil’s own work  . . .
The radical distortion of economy in Modernity
Community, Economy, Technology, and Creation

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

And let’s begin by once more drawing Christian Existence – The Crucified Man – the place of Reconciliation – held in the hospital of the Church (I shall return to this in the last lecture), betwixt the Creation and the Creator, and neighbour and neighbour.

So last time we ended up considering the abstract nature of shared life in the world today, under the label of ‘Society’ or ‘The Public’. Of how life was largely mediated to us, and increasingly experienced as either Private (individualistic), or Public (abstract).

In this respect of the unReality of ‘Society’ we quickly considered the work of Søren Kierkegaard, and we might also think of an influential distinction made by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies between ‘Gemeinschaft’ – Personal sociality – in which we know and and are known to each other – usually rendered ‘Community’, and Gesellschaft – the realm of impersonal and indirect relationships – usually rendered ‘Society’. We might think also of ‘The State’ in those terms. We do not encounter The State personally, in so far as it might be said to exist we cannot Know it – personal knowledge, merely know about it. So, what we might say has happened is that a word which once carried a concrete meaning, Society – that is deep rich human shared existence – or Community for our purposes, became increasingly abstract as human existence became more and more individualised. So it is sobering to ask young people if they are independent – and they say that they pretty much are. They have no sense that their existence depends on many many people and places they have no sense of. For Food, for clothing, for the raw materials which make up their consumer goods, for the fuel in their cars . . . We can only say we are Independent if we have lost touch with the truth of our existence – woven together . . . and of course in these things I am moving towards todays them, that of economy, or rather its contemporary distortion ‘The Economy’ For as Society became abstract, so too did economy and the shift in the two are inter related

. . . and here I am going to push my argument perhaps to what might be seen as an extreme position, but as I have spent time pondering these matters it seems a not unreasonable position to hold for all that. ‘It’s The Economy, Stupid!’ as Bill Clinton famously called out George Bush Senior . . . and we are SO attuned to The Economy, that we may well have applauded his profoundly impersonal indeed murderous words (if we take Jesus at His Word) ‘The Economy’ is the one thing we are so terrified of that all over the world we elect people who are ‘strong on ‘The Economy’, not realising that this is a death blow to our Human existence.
For ‘The Economy’ is profoundly abstract, inhuman and that it is nothing less than a demonic distortion of true economy which I would say is in Reality Κοινονια, this shared existence which I suggest is Christian Existence. Put slightly differently if we understand ‘economy’ correctly, we will find deep similarities with Κοινονια, that is the profound integrative nature of true Human existence. And we will understand how The Economy is in reality Anti-economy, that nothing is more destructive of true human flourishing than ‘The Economy’

Now a couple of points up front. Firstly as they say ‘I have skin in the game’ here. Like it or not I cannot but at some deep level participate in ‘The Economy’ – like The Matrix, I cannot touch it, but it is quite literally Everywhere. What is more that ‘skin in the game’ extends to my own kin for my son in law is a research economist. Clearly when we next meet, I am going to have some explaining to do 🙂

But secondly and perhaps counter intuitively in naming ‘The Economy’ as a truly demonic distortion we may perhaps have a key clue to Redemption, for as we note from our Scriptures, it is the presence of Jesus which reveals the demonic – which flushes them out. Not I must add that that means that we can redeem ‘The Economy’, for also like Society, it is an abstract, and a philosophical abstract which has profoundly inhuman presuppositions built into it. There is a Real sense in which is does not exist, in the same way neither do demons. The Economy is as we shall see both a significant part of the cause and also the product of our profound Alienation, from Creation, from one another and from God, and thus from our own selves. Remember our picture of The Human?

In this radical alienation – There is for the Economy no way back to the garden – after all it is protected by an angel with a flashing sword – BUT there is a way for us to come to know True economy in and through Jesus Christ and in the church. For as St Paul says, when someone is ‘in Christ’ There is New Creation – we may well say there is Κοινονια, there is indeed economy . . . but that will have to wait for a week or so. Firstly we need to understand how bad our plight is, to own up to our own place in Modernity 🙂

And I want to take you back – not all the way back to the Great Schism this time, but to C16 England. And yes, as one ponders the roots of Modernity, then ‘the home country’ has a lot to answer for. As one person put it, ‘Only England could have produced Richard Dawkins . . .’ and one might add Christopher Hitchens and other prominent atheists. And the English language which has been radically shaped by ‘Modern’ existence is very comfortable and ‘creative’ in this regard.

At that time, around the time of Henry VIII, something happened which had not been seen before – suddenly in Rural England chimneys started sprouting everywhere . . . not those of William Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’, we are still about 200 years short of that, but chimneys on houses. Suddenly LOTS of chimneys on big houses, where previously there had only been one . . . Yet as we shall see, the multiplication of chimneys on houses leads us to those smoke belching creations of Blake (and indeed Tolkien as he speaks of Isengard, the domain of Saruman, the deceived White Wizard. The arch pragmatist)
But why more house chimneys? Why might that be? Well put simply, growing wealth had meant that Lords of the manors were now following a fashion of wealthy aristocrats on the European content and in London, of installing inside what were Common shared living spaces, where ox and ass and human lived in ‘close’ proximity, separate rooms . . . each of course needing warming – hence the sudden proliferation of chimneys!

Prior to this, existence had often been shared both within and also outside of the house. You might hear an echo of last week when we spoke of the Inuit and how with all ‘indigenous people’s’ their perception did not lead them to think of an as it were ‘hidden’ interior life at odds with the exterior. Inner and outer were one. So the feudal system meant – and we heard another dim echo of this in my story about my grandmother’s childhood last week – a way of living of sharing in the proceeds of the land, and also that the Lord of the Manor had obligations to those who worked his land. Simply if people were ill etc etc rents were OF COURSE held back or reduced etc. If children were orphaned, they became the wards of the Lord of the manor. There was a deep sense of Obligation – noblesse oblige we might say – towards those further down the ladder. As Andro Linklater puts it in his work on Land Ownership – ‘the idea of the manor as a social contract was more important than its physical form’ The House, The Manor, a place of living under one roof was a way of living in the world, one might say. But under one roof or out on the Land – it was Life Together.

Rooted in? Well at the end of the day, Christian existence. For The Lord of the Manor Knew himself to be part of a hierarchy and he wasn’t the top!! For he was ‘under’ God and answerable to God for those in his care.

Now we see signs that as this order begins to crumble, The Church trying to hold it together. Witness this prayer of the 1553 Prayer Book, the first revision of the first prayer book of the Church of England (1549) “The earth O Lord is thine, and all that is contained therein; we heartily pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit into the hearts of them that possess the grounds, pastures and dwelling places of the earth that they, remembering themselves to be Thy tenants, (not at the top of the ladder) may not rack and stretch out the rents of their houses and lands, nor yet take unreasonable fines and incomes after the manner of covetous worldliness, but so let them out to others that the inhabitants thereof (those lower down) may both be able to pay the rents, and also honestly to live to nourish their families and to relieve the poor’
And remember how those to whom the prayer referred were sat in church  . . . You may wish to reflect on the rather abstract and bland wording of our prayers in church nowadays!! (For of course we work from the assumption that those in authority are NOT answerable to God . . . etc etc)
‘that they may be able to honestly live’ Marylinne Robinson in a book of her essays makes the astute point that no nation may call itself Christian where people literally cannot earn enough to live without theft . . . Indeed we may well ask ‘who really is the thief here?’. I’ll return to this at the close.
‘that they may be able . . . honestly to live to nourish their families and to relieve the poor’ For this duty went straight down the line, as I illustrated even form the recent past of my grandmother’s life last week.

Everything is God’s – and to be used for human flourishing within the care of HIs Creation. The Lord of the manor looked after those in his care who looked after the poor – for The Lord is God, and all things are His

So to comeback to Linklater’s observation that the manor, or ’house as social contract’ is PRECISELY where we get the word ‘economy’ from . Quite literally it is the οικο – νομοσ [oiko nomos] the law, or perhaps better the guide, the Way of the house – the oikos. How we are together in the house. Economy is the How of life together in the descriptive sense. Indeed it links us directly to the Life of God – not only in the phrase, ‘the economic Trinity’ meaning how are the three one and the one three . . . ‘Love one another as I have loved you . . .’ says Jesus ‘in my Father’s οικοσ . . .’

So I want to suggest that in this division of the oikos, what we see here is the beginning of the end of a way of life in which labour and social care went hand in hand in a shared existence we might call Community, economy, Κοινονια. And it involves a human disconnection from one another. Think how ‘Normal we think it that in a family ‘each person’ has their own room, whereas communal sleeping has been for all other cultures the norm – think Marae.

And that personal disconnection [breaking the one body] is also accompanied by a disconnection from Place. The shift from shared ‘feudal’ land practices, to the growing practise of turning the land over to sheep which removes people from the land – echoes here of Wendell Berry and his complaint that ‘the powers that be’ say “there are too many famers”. Flocks of sheep require less people, less care than the land, and as a happy coincidence might give a better economic (???) no let us be clear, not and ‘economic’ return for the oiko nomos (social contract we might say) is being taken to bits – this is to give a better financial return . . . The Landowner having lost sight of his place before God (as we shall see in fact subtly encouraged by the Church no less 0 now just looks at Land – field joined to field . . .
[Actually as many studies show if you really want to destroy an ecosystem, our ‘house’, then sheep are as good a way to do it as any . . . – think The Lake District]
As this is going on – Listen to the words of Sir Thomas More  from Utopia – “[the powerful magnates] enclose all in pasture; they throw down houses; they pluck down townes (villages by our standard); and leave nothing standynge, but only the church, to make of it a shepehouse . . .The rich men not only by private fraud, but also by common laws, do every day pluck and snatch away from the poor some part of their daily living . . . I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of commonwealth.” Now that reference to Common Wealth is of course rooted in the idea of a common ownership of things, the Earth is the Lord’s!  – Yet note how the 39 Articles of religion, in their final form 150 years later have changed this  – Listen for the contrast with the prayer of 1553

‘Article XXXVIII Of Christian men’s goods, which are not common. The Riches and goods of the Christian man are not common as touching to the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally give alms to the poor, according to his ability.’ And, we might say, so say all of us . . .

A couple of things to note here – first there is no sense in this Article that ‘everything actually belongs to God . . .’ and also secondarily there is no shared practise. This is a move from Shared Life to the realm of the Private – simply a moral enjoinder to the individual conscience of each. Something you ought to do – but not of necessity do. Note also to come back to More’s tirade in utopia – with the moral outlook, we do not ask whether the law is a good law. The Lawyer merely dispenses the law. So it is ‘by common laws’ that the powerful increase their holdings of land and drive off those further down the scale. And anyone who knows the history of this land will recognise in this C16 colonisation of the Land by the powerful a pattern for the legalised colonisation of lands globally. As I was reminded by an American friend this week, one of the strength s of the American legal system strangely enough is that the Judge may well decide that a Law is a bad law and throw a case out . . .
The move was from Shared lIfe with mutuality of obligation especially to the most vulnerable to privatised matters of conscience and the Law, with its move to individualistic piety.  In this regard it is worthwhile considering how ‘private’ is the so called Christian Ethic of the Anglican Church. So we have no practise which we share in together of giving alms to the poor as a special discipline in Lent. So we have moved away from the economy of the manor, towards The Economy of the powerful magnates who no longer live under the same roof, nor and this is fundamentally important do we Share the same table with the poor . . . I shall return to this when we come to look at Christian Existence in its fulness in the final lecture
And this change – a move away from a shared life of mutual obligation, to that of individual be it all so religious and moral, self interest – maps out not only the changing culture of the West but also of course its dominant religious outlook . . . ‘you in your small corner and I in mine . . .’ or as Fanny Alexander put it – ‘he died to make us good . . .’ plenty for the moralists there! Jesus did not die to make us morally good, he died that we might SHARE Life, This is the Christian Message – that we are born again into a living hope which is nothing less than a sharing in the divine nature . . .

To jump ahead slightly this is a very important point. So many complain about the collapse of the family as a moral issue – but the reality is that it is a Life issue – The Economy has all but destroyed Family existence. And I see this all around. So children are brought up by strangers, parents by carers, for The Economy has an appetite for life. You cannot even begin to have life as a family where both parents have to work every hour to keep a roof over your heads and children are drilled in the skills to make the matters worse,Educating them for ‘life in the Economy’

Let us return to our Picture of Christian Existence and explore what is happening as true economy – shared life, family, good work for observable ends – disintegrates. And we only have time to  look at this briefly – what happens to to that inter relation of Work and Place and Relationship. For of course we are under no illusions about the supposed relationship between Work and The Economy. As the Story goes, “we”, men and women go to work which builds or contributes to ‘The Economy’ . . . (And I think also that there is a significant connection between this ModernWorldview which we so comfortably seem to inhabit, such that it might have been made for us, by us, AND the language so common in the Church nowadays of ‘Building the Kingdom of God’. Both highly abstract, and both at least on the surface highly anthropocentric.)

Let us just start with that idea of ‘going to work’. What we note immediately is the shift of the focus of work. So people are removed from the land (in England – a sort of test bed for Scotland in the C18 – the notorious highland clearances, and of course here in New Zealand. Globally the infection of clearing people from the land has spread – of course many of those who set off to ‘find a new life in the New World or in Aotearoa, radically infected with this germ of disconnection from Place being either the descendants of or indeed the very people cleared from the land, became those who cleared others from the Land. Cf Tangata Whenua)

Initially people had work on the land and there was much to do. Not only of course all the eyes caring for it – for one could See the Land from where your food came – a practise of engagement – but also because it takes somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the energy we get from food, to grow food 🙂

We’ll come back to energy shortly. BUT we note that we worked in proximity to where we ate and slept. Place was Home was the arena of shared work and existence. yet following the clearances more and more people had to leave ‘home’, often a richly storied place of many generations ’to go to work’. Work thus becomes something dislocated from Home and Place, from Roots. ‘Going to Work’ unravelled this even further.
As it is in our culture, so we go home to get away from work, which suggests that our relationship with work has changed. (although as many might ruefully note work has a habit now of invading the home) This I suggest is how we might rightly distinguish between what we have in ‘The Economy’ which is ‘a job’, and truly human work which is engaged in in place and in relationship. Put another way so many of our jobs who I am with my history and roots etc etc are entirely irrelevant. Work in The Economy is nor respecter persons or place, or lest us forget, God. Thus I suggest we should be very very wary of attempts to justify work in this regard. Such justifications I only here from those who sit astride The Economy. ‘Work makes you Free!!’ they may well declare as train after train loads commuters to take them into the place of work, disconnected from house,home, family etc.
We cannot know who is benefitting, or where – and what is more our work and our consumption of goods are radically disconnected. So there is no connection between what our work is and what we consume. ‘Consumer goods’ are highly abstracted from place. We do not see the land from whence the raw materials have come. We do not experience the alienation of the land experienced by those for whom either ‘by private fraud, but also by common laws,’ have been removed from the land.
What is more this disengagement opens the door to the significant increase in the significance of MONEY. Now you no longer are working with others to grow food, you have to buy food (echoes of Egypt . . .). Buying food is a perilous business and out of your hands. The disconnection introduces all sorts of troubling possibilities, not least your own disconnection from the land, from the producers of food and so on.

All technologies are things that come between the human and the human or the human and the Creation. They are forms of Alienation. So the technology Money is about Alienation. We no longer share the fruits of our labours with others. The value of food is transferred to what it has financially cost us – to it nutrient value – not to place to shared life or increasingly shared meals as the hurried and harried worker – grabs something on the way home.

In The Economy ‘Work’ is a thing of alienation – it may be ‘the job you have always wanted’ but its connection to people and place has been largely lost. Its impact on others is largely irrelevant. It has no obvious place in connecting you to people and places you know and in which arena you share in Life together. In this sense we may well say that Work is no longer Good Work.

Because Economy has come to mean now ‘Money’ (and here I use a simplification for the sake of clarity) We work to live, to eat, to have money. Because of the collapse of true economy, you cannot live without money. We do not grow and make things that we share with one another without money.

‘The bottom line’ is no longer a purely financial expression, it describes anything that is fundamental – in other words, money has become what it is all about. And thus it is about radical alienation, separation from one another and the Land and God, as we serve Mammon, both rich and destitute alike

The monetisation of everything reaches deep deep into the modern Culture – a culture of things in separation. Every Thing is for sale – even the human body when the desperate sell themselves – for labour which kills, down to the selling of organs or the renting of wombs  . . . or worse.

Money is at base a technology and all technologies as we shall explore next time come with a story about what it means to be human

This monetisation of seemingly Everything – comes in the age of what one might call, the Total Economy. So in a terrible indictment on our thinking we are taught to believe that ‘Economic Independence’ is a Good thing . . .

Indeed the Economy might seem to so dominate everything – for example which government of late has ever been elected without a strong economic programme of one sort or another – that it might come as a surprise to hear that ‘The Economy’ only came into being as a political aim in the . . . 1950s . . . the beginning of The Great Acceleration

As we observed last week – of course there have always been forces at play which have sought to separate humans form each other, from the Land and from God – The prophets inveighed against those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land! . . . For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
But now it happens at an unprecedented and still accelerating rate

Following the Second world war , the great industrial machine lay idle as did many men who had fought  and we came to the Great Acceleration of all this the Modern World grew to dominate which it did with the mass use of fossil fuels. Firstly coal, mined at great human expense in so many ways – allowed the steam engines which took work from the home weavers. A true home industry became something to be done in the factories, the dark satanic mills. Places of Work efficiency studies as the human was more and more conformed to the machine. (By the way, I am not letting the Western Church off the hook here, clocks were the invention of the post Schism Catholic Church to make sure the monks prayed, like machines.)

Then at lesser cost in human terms gas and especially oil – at the end of the C19. Wendell Berry again noted the changes that came over farming and rural life. Firstly that machine which did more to actively destroy human community than any other perhaps the motor car. His novel ‘Jayber Crow’ speaks of the life of a community much like his own in Tennessee where the car starts to appear. Then one day a central character suffers the loss of a child as they walk down a lane and are hit by one of these cars – then how people stopped associating together as ‘entertainment’ was available in the town several miles along the road, and people could go to the big stores in town to by any number of wonderful goods not available at the local store which rooted in the reality of Creation could only sell what the land could bear to grow.

But chemical fertilisers, the product of Oil, increased the ‘productivity of the soil’ for a season. Soil has its own life. Its relation to a small number of grazing animals and the decay of some of that  which grows upon it – of communities who manure the fields, was a closed system. Chemical fertilisers ignored Place. More energy was pumped in, but as we are now beginning to see, the soil cannot bear it – only 60 years left at current levels of degradation – like a person living on endless cups of coffee – the body cannot ultimately handle it (and indeed those who work under those endlessly fuelled by coffee cannot either).
But it wasn’t just fertiliser of course, it was the tractor.

If we go back to the medieval era – people lived close to the land – in sympathy – hard hard existence (as it is for so many still today let us not forget) – but there was a sense of things being connected. Ploughs were not to be pulled by more than a pair of ox, for the violence done to the land was considered a sacrilege. Consider the enormous rose power of the tractor in comparison. Berry’s novel track all these changes as farmers with an eye to more money began to look at land not as a place of variety and distinction. With certain acres and corners better for certain crops than others. A work which required too much mental work and care for the land. Land now was just dirt in which things could be grown. Hedges were torn down to ‘make the land more productive’ – or more truly to abuse it and enslave it – to feed it supplements to make it do things it was never meant to. A development which we echoed in the dehumanisation of so much work – the adoption of the language of efficency, and Human resources (with their grim echoes of Auschwitz) the fortunate few have ‘the job they always dreamed of whilst so so many others hire their labour to whatever for whatever they can get. The fact that their is even any discussion of a living wage only reveals that.

And so it goes on ‘The Global Economy’ continues its destructive work. Nothing and nowhere is to be allowed to escape its clutches. So to take on simple example which we could replicate over and over again – On Valentines Day in the UK millions of red roses are sold, at a very reasonable cost, CHEAP especially when you consider that people were cleared from the land in places like Kenya, from their substance way of life, then invited back on to farm land which now ‘by common laws’ belongs to a corporation to grow roses. For which they obtain a pittance in money and have to go and buy food, often produced by the same corporation – far less food and often far worse food than they would have grown – and that also ignores the theft of water from a water stressed country. As I said, The Economy is no respecter of anything except Wealth

What is revealed in the end is that ‘The Economy’ is nothing more nor less than a system of legalised theft . . .’ For all things are God’s and not ours. In not sharing liberally with one another, in taking land from people for our own good, in putting people in a position where they have no option but to turn to crime to feed themselves and their family and I have encountered this myself here, we are taking that which is the Lord’s and stealing from his sheep . . .

Oh comes the cry, but if we paid people more then food would become more expensive – yes it would – for it is. The Food we enjoy has come to us at a cost hidden from us, but that cannot much longer be borne. And the Earth will have its say – all because we have exchanged economy, for The Economy

It has been sobering these past weeks to be reading Jeremiah at morning prayer – it is notable how the theme of ecological devastation runs through that book, as it also does in Isaiah. The reason? For they have broken the everlasting covenant. they have forgotten who they are and the earth lies ruined. The everlasting covenant is the Connection revealed to us in The Crucified God who is The Crucified Man – the true economy – the Koinonia – the Sharing in Life, and in all good things . . .

Well  . . . next week  – the place of technology and we shall be looking at Money, The Light bulb, the Clock, the Car and of course, the cell phone 🙂  In Week 5 we shall consider how The Modern Way has turned the message of Christian Existence inside out – before considering some of the riches available to us in the our story which might be seeds of the recovery of such Existence.

Sermon for Evensong – Lent 3 – Year A 2017

Sermon for Evensong – Lent 3 – Year A 2017

Joshua 1:1-9
Eph 6:10-20

The Subversion of the Gospel in the Modern World

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In our Lent studies, aside from Father Stephen’s book which explores the Orthodox way of seeing things – we have been considering the Contrast between Christian Existence, or profoundly human existence, and the nature of existence in ‘Modern’ Culture. As we explored a few days ago, one of the deeply troubling aspects of this culture is that it has no explicit account of ‘what it means to be human’. If as a culture we cannot begin to give an answer to that then to use the words of St Paul we open a door wide for ‘the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’. To give an example which I have recently stumbled over; Elon Musk the owner and ‘visionary’ behind Tesla Corporation tells us that ‘we must as human beings merge with the machine if we are to have any future’ (and please be aware that the almost universal use of cell phones is a considerable step in that direction) Why must we merge with machines if we are to have any future? Because as Mr Musk tells us – his corporation is developing Alternative Intelligence, self driving cars which will put millions of people out of work . . .

Note the loss of the human implicit in all of this – if I can put it more clearly  – a small child says ‘look mummy, I’m smashing up my lovely toys and I won’t have any toys when I’m finished . . .’ Elon, if what you are doing is going to put millions out of work, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it?? We see here a picture of the human as an irresponsible agent swept along by the tides of technological determinism – like any revolutionary impelled by a vision of the future and leaving chaos in its wake.

One of the deep characteristics of the ‘Modern’ culture is its deep and growing enslavement to the Left Brain  – a place which is comfortable with abstract thought and has difficulty engaging with what is – a profoundly antisocial perspective – inhuman we may well say. That all too readily ‘takes things literally’ for it is absorbed with the power of words to describe and define reality – despite their final inability to get anywhere near to the truth of things, which of course also means we live in an age of anger, the Left brain response to this inability. Put another way the Modern culture is one of angry literalists, of various hues, but literalists all the same.

This of course affects us deeply in the Church – all of us even at best are about 95% Modern and 5% Christian in terms of what informs our day to day existence – statistics and numerical measurement are of course also part of the Left Brain dominant philosophy 🙂 So in every issue we end up fighting with one another over, and getting angry about – we are confronted by our mirror image – a group of literalists. Which is why the arguments are so unutterably tedious. For to use Mark Twain’s aphorism, Progressives and Conservatives, or Right and Left, or Evangelicals and Liberals – pick your own preferred Left Brain simplistic duality, the Left brain can’t cope with mess and needs to put everyone in a category – give them a label – We are two nations divided by a common tongue – that is we all speak and operate as Modernists.

To wit our texts this evening – and of course texts are the domain of the ‘literally’ minded. Herein we find two texts ‘about conflict’. In the text from the Tanakh, The LORD tells Joshua to be ‘strong and very courageous’ ‘for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.’ So here is God commanding Joshua before of course we know he goes into the promised land and commits Genocide – a literal reading and so we dismiss this. Or St Paul who goes on at length about putting our armour on . . . ‘all this militaristic imagery . . .’ so the literalist who says the problem is people taking the text literally, dismisses the text because of its ‘literal’ meaning.

Or as Father Stephen puts it in his book ‘‘Scripture becomes lost in a constant battle between opposing camps of literalists—those who believe literal history negates the Bible and those who believe the Bible is literal history’ Or in this case – those who don’t like the literal interpretation of the Scriptures they find. it is odd that those who dismiss fundamentalists are applying the same literal outlook on the scriptures which they thereby dismiss. One way and another, we are all pretty much fundamentalists now

And this tendency is further strengthened by the Modern perspective of The Observer, who looks out at the world to put their interpretation upon it – again Left Brain work. For Modern existence is one of profound individualism and isolationism. We live often alone, or in very small groups – we don’t have to change our way of life to suit others, for we live in self contained boxes, we may have the privilege of ‘doing the job we always wanted to do’ – rather than slave in sugar fields or electronics factories or indeed far worse, merely to keep body and souls together, and of course as I have said before we live in profound disconnection from the impact of our actions upon the wider world. We live in a profound isolation from all that is – Just like Elon Musk. The idea that I am the centre of existence is reinforced by our separation from those who might make our lives difficult. And SO as separated observers of life we look out at the things of the world and see all the problems and think that we can fix them. Now this is a profound Inversion, or subversion of the Christian tradition which taught that We were the ones who needed to change, that the world was changed as people through patience and discipline were themselves changed into the image and likeness of God.

We didn’t look out at say Donald Trump and go ‘image of God?? Seriously??? We need to get rid of him!! Instead we discovered that to use a turn of phrase ‘there was a bit of Donald Trump inside all of us’ and that the best thing we might perhaps do is to deal with that first.

As Jesus teaches us – ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.’ The Modern person is profoundly a Judge. We are all asked ‘what is your opinion about this or that or the other – as if it was a thing of ‘Great Consequence’  – you might even get on the TV ‘giving your opinion.’ and so we are obsessed with Opinion polls which ‘tell us what we think’ – and are in the end a way to the mob for they cause those who are in a minority to conform to the majority and finally unleash yet more violence in the name of Justice, or Freedom Liberty and Equality – those bastions of the French Revolution – utterly abstract and thus inhuman constructs  – the realm of the Left Brain 🙂

Jesus goes on – For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the [TINY} speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the [ENORMOUS] log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

I’ll come back to the last clause in a moment. Firstly to note that the work of co-operating with God in our own healing is a far greater work than that of ‘fixing’ my neighbour. So as St Paul says we need significant armoury – for example to be alert to our profound susceptibility to self deception. Of course if we are busy looking out at the world making our judgements of this or that person or this or that situation we are distracted from the fundamental deceits of our own heart which are fueling our Sense of Righteous Injustice, or worse our Anger. If you are angry with your brother – you will be liable to the counsel, says ?? Jesus. It is a HARD work, and it is not about flesh and blood , its not about ‘those people out there’ – it is about to use Paul’s language again
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
It is only when we begin to treat with seriousness our own deep rooted sinful tendency that we begin to realise the scale of the battle – that there is a land which must be taken and the conflict to take it will require us to be strong and very courageous because it is looking the truth of our inner lives clearly in the eye’ Put another way you cannot heal another whom you hate.

But if we seek first the Kingdom – if we face up to and with God;s grace begin the long slow journey to our own healing, then that makes a HUGE difference to how we live in the world. ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.’ to See clearly is to Perceive – the discern beyond the ‘literal’ to Behold – to Know things in their truth and in relationship with all people and all things created.

Just the other evening a crowd of us gathered at Holy Name to listen to Shane Claybourne. His is a name with which you may well not be familiar. He is famous as a Social Justice activist in the United States – but that is a most unhelpful label . . .

He too was a literalist in some regards – one of THAT sort – brought up the ‘the deep south’. But when he went to college in Philadelphia he noted something was perhaps amiss. For local homeless people, largely women with children had en masse taken over a derelict Catholic church and the Archdiocese wanted them out!! So he and some fellow students along with quite a few others went to support the homeless – for they saw there was something Wrong going on. Well one thing led to another, he and his friends phoned up Mother Theresa to ask if they could work with her for a time in Calcutta – she said come!! They said ‘but where will we sleep? What will we eat and Mother replied over the phone, God provides for the birds of the air – Come he will even provide for you’ 🙂

After that they went to live in one of the most poverty stricken areas of Philadelphia – to form community and to live amongst the poor – and they FOUND community – they found these people whom they had thought they were going to help were teaching them so much. The community is beautified – people are working together to grow their own food. The homeless are being homed and fed . . . Shane has gone to jail once – for feeding homeless people – and at present he is waiting another day in court for being involved in a protest on the steps of the supreme court with a huge banner which said ‘End Executions’

Shane it seems to me is a great example of the deep truth of the parable of splinters and logs. As I listened – what struck me more than anything was his complete lack of rancour about things – there was no ‘righteous’ anger about ‘what’s wrong in the world’  this is why I think the label social activist is so unhelpful – for these are usually deeply angry people — indeed much of what he said was stories against himself about his weaknesses and failings. He was constantly laughing, at himself 🙂 Here wasn’t a typical Modern person fighting for getting things right – he can SEE things aren’t good – but because he is very aware of the logs in his own eyes there was tremendous humility – and not a hint of Anger. Here I thought was a man on the way to healing who was becoming a healer . . .

As we closed he led us in a series of prayer meditations and one was on the fruit of the Spirit – which is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self control.

And it struck me how alternative these are to the Modern world and it ways – which can only bring healing through the violence of war or armed struggle or anger or  . . . I mentioned the French Revolution which was for ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’ and stopped at nothing to get there

The Life of Jesus was springing up in that young man. He knew and was realistic about the powers that held the lives of others, because he knew them within himself – he knows that you cannot be part of any solution unless you recognise that you  are just as much part of the problem – that you too need a healing from sin and its power. That is the Real conflict – the one closest to home, the one inner hearts – but literalists of any bent cannot see this. May God give us grace to see where the real problems lie