Thursday, November 29, 2012

When Jesus returns

It doesn’t really matter what we do
in our own finite occupation
of planet earth, so one theory goes.
All the pollution and the global warming
and the depletion of the fishing stocks
and the extinction of various species;
not our problem.
And all the refugee camps in border regions
and the ragged children on the smoking
garbage mountains and all the repression
and the fear
and the greedy corporate exploitation
and all the political lies; about these things
we need have no concern.
Because Jesus is coming back.
Yeah, Jesus is coming back
and he’ll wave his hand, his magic
Holy Spirit hand, and the new heaven
will replace the old, and the new earth
will take over from the old
and everything will be clean and fresh
and smell like a pair of shiny new shoes
just out of their box.
Or so one theory goes.

© Ken Rookes

And another that provides something of a comment on the gospel for Sunday that some of you might enjoy. 

Don't stop now

We set out on our journey
when the words of life were spoken.
We knew we had to travel;
we knew the world was broken

We knew we had a message
that would breathe a new-found hope,
we knew it would not be easy,
we trusted we would cope.

We left behind our cares,
our fortune and desire.
We gathered up our courage;
we would set the world on fire.

Or so we hoped and so we prayed,
we studied and we plodded.
We collected our resources
while the Spirit pushed and prodded.

We saw our destination
unfold just like a vision;
we knew we had a calling,
we knew we had a mission.

Good news for the poor, we cry;
good news of love and grace!
The light is coming, now it’s here,
it shines upon each face.

We journey in the darkness,
we journey in the night,
we dine upon the wine, the bread
set at the table, white.

Injustice casts its shadow,
we feel its dreadful threat;
we know that love will triumph,
that love’s not finished yet.

So we confront the cruelty
the oppression and the greed;
dig deep into our calling
and find the strength we need.

But bitterness won’t go away
and fearfulness persists;
we weaken and grow weary,
and still the call insists.

“Let us go,” with worn-out cry
we make our loud request.
“The journey is too difficult
we need a place to rest.”

“All these years we’ve journeyed
we’ve struggled on and on,
but no-one seems to notice
and no-one sings our song.

“And no-one seems to care,
the world has not been righted;
this kingdom’s too elusive,
it is so seldom sighted.

“All people should be saved by now,
and dwell in heavenly bliss!
There are not many left of us,
we can’t go on like this!

We cannot help but question,
we have to voice our doubt;
where is the gospel power,
where’s that hallelujah shout?

We didn’t really plan for this;
Ha, we didn’t plan at all.
No planning but a simple “yes,”
when caught inside love’s thrall.

We stand within the silence,
we wait for a reply.
The road ahead seems unconcerned,
the road behind asks, “Why?”

“Why?” and “What?” and “Can it be?”
“How can we know the way?”
We search inside the stillness
for a reason not to stay.

“Don’t stop now!” the call responds,
“Keep on the road, my friend!
You know that once you’ve started
you must see it to the end.

“You think you’ve made a sacrifice,
perhaps you have, that’s fine.
Your gifts of love are noted;
all gifts of love are mine.

“There’s beauty in your weariness,
there’s beauty in persistence.
There’s glory in defiant acts,
in grace, and truth’s resistance.

“The destination’s guaranteed,
don’t worry you can’t see it.
The journey is the place of truth
for those who choose to be it.

“This broken world’s still waiting
for my children to arrive,
to build the peace and bring the love;
to make it come alive.

“So don’t forsake the journey,
no, don’t give up the fight;
and don’t forget my Spirit’s yours;
walk in the Spirit’s light.

And though the way be painful,
and though the night be strong,
remember that you’re not alone;
come join the angels’ song

© Ken Rookes
I shared this at my last presbytery meeting on Tuesday. On reflection it seems to have some relevance to the Gospel reading for Sunday, being the first in Advent.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wake up

To what do we need to wake up? 
As with all of Jesus’ teaching about the parousia, it is about waking up to love. Not, as many in the modern understanding of the second coming would have it, waking up to our dislike or hate of the behaviour of others. How does our behaviour need to be woken up, by our realization of the imminence of God of Christ?

So as we enter this season of Advent, this season during which more than any other we stand on tiptoes and crane our necks in an attempt to see over the horizon and speak of expectation and promise and hope, what do we have to say in the face of the gathering clouds of darkness? ( Environmental issues, War and violence, despair and meaninglessness, the death of the church as we know it!)
As people well trained in anaesthetising ourselves to our fears of the future, can we find something in the message of Jesus that speaks with genuine hope before the all too real and all too concrete perils bearing down on our generation? To say that the end is nigh is no longer seen as a sign of religious excess, just an unwelcome statement of the obvious. How then shall we live?

We need to be promoting a lifestyle for a new era not a harking back to lifestyle of 40 years ago. Community instead of competition. Shared belongings instead of over-consumption. That sounds like a lifestyle that could be light to the world’s dark fear. That sounds like a lifestyle that could prepare us for Christ’s return.
Where are the voices crying out in the wilderness calling us to repent and return to God? I speak of the God of justice and mercy: the God who calls us to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God. One of those voices is the poet who wrote Hymn 621. This hymn not heard often in our churches – at least I haven't heard it often – but it is a hymn that calls us to the world Isaiah and Dr. King and God envisioned:
O God of every nation, of every race and land,
redeem the whole creation with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us and heal our strife-torn world. 

be still and wait

"I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." 
t.s Eliot

Painting 1977

The man in the Peter Booth landscape
stares out with red eyes
while the city burns behind him.
Fearful and anxious blacks and greys
give birth bloodily to the distress and pain
of orange flame and scarlet moon.
(Or is it the sun?)
The standing white dog observes without judgement;
nothing that these mortals do can surprise him.
Booth’s apocalyptic vision
could have been referencing this Lucan passage,
speaking as it does, of celestial signs
in the firmament above,
and distress upon earth.
The literalists get excited,
talk fervently of the day that is coming,
of end-times, judgement
and of the hope of heaven’s compensation
for earthly hardship and indignity.
Vindication for the righteous.
They look to the skies, eager to be the first
to see their Master surfing the clouds,
hoping for a mid-flight rendezvous.
Look, Jesus, here we are;
we’ve kept ourselves nice!
It is not in the skies
that the work of faith is to be done,
but here, among earth’s dust,
where the faithful wait
with yearning and with tears,
and with defiant love; costly, unresting.
They press on, determinedly declaring 
in the midst of indifference, uncertainty and distress:
The kingdom of God has come near!

© Ken Rookes 2012

Link to Peter Booth's Painting 1977

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

subversive political acts

"In its simplest terms, the kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this world were not (Borg, Crossan). Imagine if God ruled the nations, and not Obama, Medvedev, Kim Jong-il, Mugabe, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Every aspect of personal and communal life would experience a radical reversal. The political, economic, and social subversions would be almost endless—peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed, humility rather than hubris, embrace rather than exclusion, etc. The ancient Hebrews had a marvelous word for this, shalom, or human well-being.
            The Lord's Prayer, then, just might be the most subversive of all political acts: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." People who live and pray this way have a very different agenda than Caesar's, whether Republican or Democrat, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, whether democratic or theocratic, for they have entered a kingdom, pledged their allegiance to a ruler, and submitted to the reign of Christ the King.

This subverted image of Kingship

This subverted image of kingship, given us in the account of the crucifixion, belongs at the heart of Christian faith and community - and at the heart of God. In that sense it represents the kingdom, the kingship of God. Jesus’ ministry interprets his death and his death interprets his ministry. So this is not a passivity which surrenders, a kind of discipline which learns to find fulfilment in being a doormat through some brave self-persuasion that such behaviour is noble or blessed. It is the transforming compassion which gets on the donkey and rides into Jerusalem. It is an engaged spirituality which lives not from abject obedience to a heavenly king, but in common initiatives of creativity and hope which constitute the being of God.
It is so good to celebrate the feast of Christ the king in the context of the passion. Obsession with power so easily 'rescues' Jesus (and God) from all of this and makes the resurrection the point of return to power from the embarrassment or the stunt of incarnation. The military Jesus makes an appearance quite soon and people forget kingship is a broken metaphor which has legitimacy only in its subversion. Our task is no less today to proclaim the kingdom of God, a kingship not of this world - but here and now.

A particular truth

 (Buechner, 1977)

 "A particular truth can be stated in words-that life is better than death and love than hate, that there is a god or Is not, that light travels faster than sound and cancer can sometimes be cured if you discover it in time. But truth itself is another matter, the truth that Pilate asked for, tired and bored and depressed by his long day. Truth itself cannot be stated. Truth simply Is, and is what Is, the good with the bad, the joy with the despair, the presence and absence of God, the swollen eye, the bird pecking the cobbles for crumbs. Before it is a word, the gospel that is truth is silence, a pregnant silence in its ninth month, and in answer to Pilate's question, Jesus keeps silent, and even with his hands tied behind him manages somehow to hold silence out like a terrible gift."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Truth; does it still exist?

What, indeed, is this stuff;
the subject of the pilatean enquiry
nearly two millennia ago?
A large group of self-appointed custodians
recently forfeited any claim
to represent truth,
having betrayed their Master
by placing the needs of reputation
ahead of the fruits of compassion and justice
of which he was wont to speak.
They were not the first.
There are others, so caught up
with notions of what is and is not correct,
that they become blind to what might be true.
We squeeze it, push it,
poke and prod it into strangely shaped vessels
that can never properly contain it,
and then express our surprise when it bursts out,
spilling its disquieting trouble
over those standing too near.

We search anxiously for something convenient
with which to wipe it away.
Like the Roman governor
we don’t really expect an answer to our question.
The prisoner’s silence serves us well;
we welcome the stillness,
pretending that it is the same as peace.
But our evasions remain incomplete,
and in the determined hush
the remembering persists.
We recall his teachings, his defiant words
that tell of hearing and seeing and reaching.
Other tales intrude too,
including his own troubled story,
about to be made complete
with betrayal, bleeding and weeping.
The stories stealthily invade our silence;
to weave around and through a living parable
catching us up into his unavoidable truth
with all its disturbing expectations.

© Ken Rookes 2012
 A bit of a work in progress. Might revisit later in the week.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let us plant dates

What is hope? It is the pre-sentiment that imagination is more real, and reality less real than it looks. It is the suspicion that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress us and repress us is not the last word. It is the hunch that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe. That the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual. And that in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection. But, the two, suffering and hope, must live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair. But hope without suffering creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness. So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline. It is a refusal to let our creative act be dissolved away by our own need for immediate sense experience. And it's a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given saints, revolutionaries, and martyrs the courage to die for the future they envisage. They make their own bodies the seed of their own highest hopes.”

Ruben Alvez b. 1933
Tomorrow's Child

Monday, November 12, 2012

a world of terror

"Mark takes us into a world of terror. He will go on to speak of trial and betrayal (9-13), of desecration and fleeing refugees (14-20), and again of false hopes and predictions (21-23). The whole climaxes in cosmic disasters (24-25) from which the only hope is divine intervention in human form: the coming of the Son of Man (26-27). It is a supernatural solution, a vision of hope that transcends the categories of human achievement. Terror beyond description is being matched by hope beyond description.
It is hard to enter this world - then and now. We lose our way if we make the passage predict the future. Writings of this kind characteristically enter the terror only to leap into fantasies of hope. We may discard them as unfulfilled and irrelevant or revise them like Matthew and Luke with some updating and seek to maintain their vision. Two millennia later updating is even more difficult! Defiant hope remains. Naming the terror remains. Facing the ambiguities in desperate situations about who speaks for Christ remains." 

Into the place of all these temporary things

Into the place of all these temporary things (temples, churches, Kingdoms) stands the power of God’s transforming love. This newness is not something that we are to just stand aside for though. We are a part of it. We are God’s agents of peace, of justice, of compassion and of hope. When we are faced with destruction our Christian task is neither despair nor jubilation. Faced with enemies, we love, faced with drought, we live in hope and care for each other, faced with poverty we shout ‘justice!’,  faced with environmental catastrophe, we acknowledge our sin and work to care for God’s world. And through all of this we rest in the power and certainty that, in the end, (who knows when?) God’s reign is permanent and true and above all these things. Let us go out in faith to live in hope. 

All will be thrown down

Christendom’s temple began
its inevitable disintegration
some decades ago.
We didn’t see it coming.
It had become weakened, its foundations
eroded by respectability and status.
The collapse continues, and gains intensity
as priests are disgraced,
bishops run for cover,
and Rome’s response is to secure itself
behind barricades of denial.
Ah, but we are Protestant;
we are not to blame.
No, but the scandal of our brethren
is a reminder of our own shortcomings and lies;
along with our deluded half-baked attempts
to create protestant versions
of the Christendom dream.

Let it go.
Refuse to weep or mourn.
It does not matter.
We built a grand edifice and pretended
that some divine uncritical blessing
rested upon it. It colluded  with us,
spending so many of its years
draping itself in self-importance;
and never really understanding
that discipleship is a humble thing,
with much giving and serving
and dying.
Eschew the role of custodian;
do not become a curator
of ancient and best-forgotten relics.
Let the stones be thrown down
and the walls crumble!
They will not be missed.
Spray what remains with rude slogans..

Claim your true identity as a disciple,
a follower of one who died
in order that the whole of creation
might become reborn.
Embrace the birth-pangs;
anticipate with hope the new thing
that is surely coming
to sweep away the remnants of the old.
Let the sacred memories of Christendom
be relegated to the history books
and let them serve as a warning.

© Ken Rookes 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ruth and Naomi, Israel and Palestine?

Reading this quote from Nathan Nettleton, i could not help but reflect on the modern state of Israel and her relationship to Palestine.
"The whole vision of Israelite faith in that era was welcoming and inclusive and called for a radical responsibility by the whole community to ensure the welfare of those who might otherwise be pushed to the margins of the community. Unfortunately there is a tendency in human beings to always want to narrow down the in-group and write off those who don’t fit, and to narrow the view of God’s concerns accordingly. This was somewhat understandable in Israel’s history. They were a small nation in a strategic location surrounded by big powerful nations. Their existence was always under threat and they were taken off into exile more than once. When you are a persecuted minority group, drawing more and more clearly the boundary lines of who is and isn’t part of your group is a basic survival strategy. By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, after periods of exile in Assyria and Babylon and now under Persian domination, the focus of Israelite faith and self-understanding has narrowed down to the pure “holy seed” of Judah. The holy seed is to be protected at all costs from any danger of contamination because God’s covenant is only with the holy seed. The idea that God even cared about the fate of those outside the holy community had all but vanished from the dominant ideology. Israelite was no longer seen as a light to the nations, but a pure light to be protected from the nations. The generous inclusivity of the early faith was a suppressed memory. Instead of their faith and law having a clear focus on protecting the welfare of those on the margins of the community, the focus is now on protecting the identity of those at the core of the community, even if that must be done at the expense of those on the margins."

Ruth coloring

Ruth and Naomi painting
Artist Dianna Busse

Ruth and Naomi

The storm

Haiku of stillness After a long day telling stories, parables, Jesus needs a break. Suggests a boat trip. Let us cross the lake; ...