The complexity of command, conscience and covenant: new year reflection

The Christian life is a complex interplay of command, conscience and covenant – and none of these words are particularly popular or well understood in our culture or, perhaps, by many in the church.

traffic, conscience, right, wrong, covenant, maturity, choice, freedomFrom time to time debates rage in one corner of Christendom or another as to what Christians should or shouldn’t do and rarely is a mature understanding of these coexistent realities displayed.

Simplistically we could draw understanding from the humble traffic light. Red and green are commands and amber is more or less a matter of personal decision or conscience. Red does not ask you if you feel you should stop, it tells you that you must. Amber however allows you some measure of consideration. And green, like red, is a command to go and if you are in doubt about that you have not experienced missing a green light in Sydney traffic.

The context for the command and conscience of the traffic light is the covenant we all have with each other that we will obey the traffic rules, including traffic lights, and likewise drive safely and responsibly. When we as a community balance command, conscience and covenant well, there is relative safety and amenity on our roads. When these three are out of shape – frustration, damage and even death can result.

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Peace on earth, good will…

Peace on earth?

children, massacre, violence, peace on earth, Don’t tell me there’s a
book, blog or documentary
pope, priest or commentary
that will make it alright

Can’t yell me to believe in
stronger  legislation
better educate them
to take away the fright

I’m not going for no
positive reinforcement
expert’s free endorsement
to mitigate the sight

22, Chenpeng children, kitchen-knife stabbed, village school
20, Newtown little ones, gunshot dead, kindergarten classroom
10, Dawlatzai innocents, bombshell bled, collecting firewood
And that’s just this week

I don’t wanna make sense of
Everything that’s senseless
Everything that’s broken
to help me through the night

There’s nothing you can show me
That undoes all the madness
Liberates the sadness
Or sends all the children home

But I can still remember
A broken twisted traitor
Who said he was a Saviour
Who radiated right

And I can still feel
A resonance of matter
Perpetuance of laughter
An ever outsourced light

Good will…

Photo: Robert Davies, UK

Return to me on the mountain and don’t smash your future

“Prepare two stone tablets like the first ones, and make a sacred chest out of acacia wood to keep them in. Return to me on the mountain, and I will write on the tablets the same words that were on the ones you smashed.” Deuteronomy 10:1-2

Bible, future, recovery, God, MosesMoses had spent 40 days removed from the normal rhythms of life in the presence of God receiving a blueprint for the future, an agreement for living, a look at how things could be, all written in stone by the finger of God.

Then God gives Moses those tablets, bearing the words of the 10 Commandments,  even though he knew it was going wildly skewiff on the ground. No doubt God was peeved too but it was Moses, tired and hungry after a 40 day fast and difficult climb, who took the ‘future’ and smashed it in the midst of his community’s messy ‘present’.

Things don’t always work out the way we expect. Our most holy moments can end up trampled on by golden calves. Outraged, brutalised, despairing, we smash the future in our all or nothing reaction just as Moses smashed the tablets God had given him.Read More »

Slim Moment

Mantel’s Cromwell stands amidst the past like a house burned down

It fattens your thought like cholesterol in your veins
Like tar in your lungs
The past clings to things heavily
And you carry the weight without knowing
Your fastest manoeuvre is leadened, leavened
And you blame the present
Ignoring the heavy metal armour of yesterday
But in a slim moment you glimpse
You – divested of this insulation to life
A sharper, faster, nimbler you
One that was forgotten; no, more than that
One you didn’t know existed.

Can you forego once and for all
This raking of the coals
This teasing of your soul
Your sabotage of certainty and seasons
Ah, of course there is no once and for all
That is what keeps you there, in the past
Unfinished business that can’t be finished
So unfinish it with His “Finished”
Even deadly, devout Cromwell knew as much

Poetry of rock in motion

Rock is like water, only slower.

Walking along a rock platform today I saw waves coursing through the stone, swells and surges of infinite patience, little turgid trickles, the splatter of very slow rain, a steady splash and cheeky, rocky streams.

Shapes and forms, pleasing to the eye, that take seconds to occur in water minutes or hours in sand and centuries or millennia in stone.

And yet the rock has its movement, too slow for our perception, rendering it still to our transient eyes.

But for the Inhabiter of ages, for whom a thousand years is a day and moments are a lifetime, all is poetry in motion.

Which is why I walk peacefully on watery rock and Jesus saunters on solid water.

Fireworks at Eiffel Tower Copyright Peter Hallett 2012

Paris celebrates Bastille Day 2012: photos

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Bastille Day seemed to us Australians something like a mix between Anzac Day and Australia Day with fewer barbecues and more tanks and fighter planes.

There were lots of crowds moving quietly to watch parades, flyovers and fireworks and just as many watching the passing crowds from the forward-facing chairs of cafes.

As we arrived at the fireworks, a short walk from where we are staying, it was somewhat like Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks only the iron of the bridge had morphed into a giant tower.

So conditioned am I by the Sydney event, when the fireworks were under way I kissed my wife and said Happy New Year! Or perhaps that was just an excuse… Enjoy our small photographic selection

Ceiling of the Dome Church

Skimming and delving through life and travel with war, segways and macaroons

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“That was travel… A dance across surfaces to see the face of everything and learn the meaning of very little.”

Thomas Keneally has one of his characters think this thought in his new novel, The Daughters of Mars,  as she travels by train through Egypt to board the hospital ship Archimedes during World War I. The story tells of Australian nurses who serve at Gallipoli and then at the Western Front, an apt book to read while touring France.

The danger of skimming and never learning is as much a risk of life as it is travel but no doubt the tourist mentality heightens this risk as people skip from one famous site to another, record endlessly on their devices, but take very little time to absorb meaning.

An inquiring mind, open heart and keen eye are as useful in travel as in life to remedy the dearth of meaning that can so often diminish our days. On the other hand, sometimes the constant barrage of meaning in cathedrals and chateaus and cities and coffins is too much and some pleasant moments with a pistachio macaroon are just as important…

On our last day before returning to Paris we visited Francois 1’s château Chambord, possibly built along the architectural principles of the king’s favourite Italian artist and thinker, Leonardo da Vinci. Its central dual staircase which allows people to climb up entwining stairs without ever meeting is reminiscent of some of da Vinci’s drawings which we saw at Le Clos Luce, Amboise, where da Vinci lived and died in the service of Francois.

And the meaning of this imposing structure: a chance for the king to build his own château from scratch, to demonstrate his power and wealth, and to have extensive grounds for hunting. Now the tourist has conquered and at least we are free to share this indulgence and feel a connection with history, such as it is.

Perhaps as instructive as the architecture was sharing a meal in a nearby cafe afterwards and assisting the French waiter with a little English and no Italian explain to some slightly bewildered Venetian tourists with no English or French that the special of the day was fish. We Australians did somewhat better than the French waiter, no doubt because we come from Leichhardt! There was some admirable French indignation when the affable but fiery Italians refused to be served the dessert that came with the special of the day and we came to understand how Europe has so often found itself at war. There’s some meaning for you…

Speaking of war, having solved the riddle which is the location of the Europcar depot at Montparnasse (four levels underground marked by a six inch sign near the Pullman hotel and no where near where it is advertised as being located) we returned our hire car – undamaged but witness to some minor cursing – and after a pleasant evening with friends, went walking the next morning, past the Eiffel Tower, nonchalantly, to see L’Hôtel national des Invalides.

This imposing structure was built by Louis XIV as a home and hospital for aged and infirm soldiers but not content with its pleasing and unadorned chapel, he had a new private, royal chapel built known commonly as the Dome Church. Much later it became the resting place of Napoleon and several other national figures and at eye level is more aptly named (by me) ‘Le halle of massive coffins’. Napoleon is encased in no less than six coffins, the largest exterior one appearing to be the size of a large van but proportions are hard to determine in so grand a space. Much dusting required no doubt.

Having found seats on which we could recline to enjoy the dome ceiling we then toured the military museum which actually provided a very useful and brief history lesson on the origins of WWI and WWII. A group of young Australian men came through and while respectful in a Cronulla beach kind of way, seemed larger than life, loudly commenting and questioning as if the world belonged to them, carrying the same bravado many of our diggers did when they “toured” Europe in the early 1900s. It was impossible not to enjoy their confident if at times misinformed commentary but our national ‘presence’ must still be a mystery to the somewhat sombre French.

Coming out of this other-world towards the Seine, under the still watchful eyes of Napoleon, we walked back to our abode in Paris’ “15 district”, again passing the Eiffel Tower where I paused to trim my finger nails while a bride and groom had their photo taken and a scurry of segways surrounded us.

Rainbow welcome in prayerful Seoul

When travelling to Europe from Australia you cannot and should not forget we are part of Asia.

Sauntering into steamy Seoul this afternoon we were greeted with a welcoming rainbow as if to assure us we are in the right place. Overnight at least.
Having checked in to our aptly named Sky Hotel near Incheon Airport, I ducked outside to join many locals in admiring and photographing the colours in the sky.

South Korea is one of the most prayerful nations on the planet with millions of devout Christians well-known for their all night prayer vigils and prayer mountains.

Not surprisingly I found a church steeple to partner with the rainbow, which by this stage had lost some of its initial brightness.

Walking back to our hotel a young Korean woman walked past wearing an over-sized t-shirt that said, ‘In God we Trust’. I read it out loud and smiled and received one in return.

Prayer seems all the more important for South Korea when seeing close at hand its proximity to large neighbours China and Russia and of course it’s cranky northern relative. Pray for the peace of Korea…


Why should the devil have all the good computer games?

When Larry Norman sang Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music in the seventies he was fighting back against a religious world-view that said music could not be ‘Christian’ unless it was played on an organ and written in old English.

Which is not to say there’s not some great music in that genre, but when it came to Christian rock, Larry was proclaiming it was time to hear some music which was ‘good’ in its own right. And the message it carried would be lifted as well:

“I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat.
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet”

I can still hear Larry’s nasally voice in my mind when I read those words…

Anyway, time has moved on and there is plenty of good Christian music, in fact arguably, contemporary Christian music, musicians, songwriters and singers breath much-needed life into rock, soul, R & B and all kinds of music every day.

We are still waiting to see the same commitment to artistic imagination and excellence in the realm of film and literature but there are plenty of people trying. Which is sometimes the problem.

And now a Sydney Morning Herald blog writer has opened up a whole new area of discussion with the question, “why are Christian games so often so bad?”

Now I’m not really a big fan of computer gaming – mainly on the principle that there are games that you can play for 80 hours a week for the rest of your life and never come to an end… and there are too many people trying to accomplish this.

But Ash Walmsley’s blog tackles the whole arena of faith and culture via reference to gaming (having arena and via in the same sentence is a nice Roman touch I think, they liked their games too…)

He writes:

“Joshua Topolsky, founding editor in chief of The Verge writes for the Washington Post about his recent trip to E3. ‘Finally, one thing I found surprising and more than a little disappointing was the increase in graphic violence in games, as well as developers’ apparent inability to think of anything more than a gun to place in the hands of lead characters,” Topolsky wrote.

“‘There were a handful of games that explored a space outside the run-and-attack mechanics of many titles, but few tried to tell adult stories without gunshots and stabbings.’

“The world has become scared to acknowledge God. Do that, and you have to acknowledge sin and eventual judgement, which is as uncomfortable as the itchy, high-hitched trousers your mum used to make you wear to Sunday School. And yet we have greater acceptance in some areas, such as school chaplains being given the OK by the High Court (although the funding model needs a tweak).

“Could innovative, soul-searching, conscience nudging, mortality-facing games with Christian themes take gaming to another level? I shall be keeping my eyes on the Gamesmen catalogue to find out.”

Bad does get boring and once the rabid R-rated gaming fraternity wears itself out on its newly won ‘bound-freedoms’, perhaps they’ll even come looking for something more…

Read more of Ash Walmsely.

PS I love a line adaptation in Larry’s Youtube clip above: “Why should the devil have anything?”