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

Christmas speaks to the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul

Birth of Jesus by RembrandtChristmas as we know it has been culturally crafted over thousands of years around a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel.

Each December various scientists, atheists and pot-shotters are trotted out with their latest theories debunking Christmas and erstwhile Christian intellectuals and apologists bravely rally to defend the seasonal ground. Others argue over various cultural accoutrements to Christmas such as dates and customs and commercialistation. They act as if the average person is not intelligent enough to distinguish between later attempts to mark something significant and the significant thing itself.

Certainly the habitual attacks on the historical origins of Christmas or Easter or any Christian belief along with the confusing but largely irrelevant criticisms of the cultural artefacts that accompany those traditions, have a gradual, destabilising effect on the faith of the wavering or nominal who are probably the majority of believers in our nation. Around the globe however the effect is infinitesimal and Christian faith continues to thrive and multiply in amazing diversity with scant disregard for broadsheet column centimetres.

That is because at the heart of it, the Christmas story – to quote myself – ‘a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel’ is so shockingly familiar to our own human experience it reaches us where the debunkers and apologists never could, in the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul.

Here are just a few examples, in no particular order:Read More »

‘Jesus had two daddies too…’

Guido Reni's Joseph with the Infant Jesus, abo...
Image via Wikipedia

Sitting in a Christmas Eve service I was enjoying a short film from the kids of St Paul’s in New Zealand, when a phrase spoken by one of the children went off in my head like a gun.

‘Jesus had two daddies, God and Joseph…’

While people sometimes stumble over the paternal origins of Jesus, the children who made this Christmas film had no trouble accepting that there were, in some sense, two fathers in Jesus’ life.

And why would the kids of today have trouble with this concept when so many of them live with this reality, and even more complex ones.

In the work in which I’m currently involved, I spend much of my time with children and young people coming to terms with a constellation of adults who represent mother and father figures to them.

It is particularly difficult at times for foster children, who find themselves in a loving foster home with carers they regard as their mummy and daddy, while at the same time having regular contact with other people who are, in many cases, equally loving parents.

It is one of the main challenges of child protection globally to know how to resolve this issue in a healthy and a whole way, for the benefit of the child. It rarely is easy and often encounters incredible difficulties.

Hundreds and thousands of foster children will be faced with this dilemma this Christmas season and how well they negotiate it will depend a lot on the selflessness and security of the adults involved.

Then there is that other broad category of children who have multiple parental relationships – those from families touched by divorce.

Perhaps for the first time it occurred to me, during the Christmas eve service, that Jesus had found yet another way to identify with the heartache of this world – represented by the complexity of having two dads.

I know it’s different, and I know having God for a dad is unique, but in the moment that child spoke these words, ‘Jesus had two daddies’ I knew many children would feel happy to hear that they were not alone in working this out.

For many years I have attended church and was aware of and in touch with global poverty, local disadvantage, the ravages of substance abuse and the struggle of mental illness, but I had scant knowledge of the hundreds and thousands of children balanced in the fulcrum of parental responsibility. Who has responsibility for them – mum and/or dad? Uncle and/or aunt? The government and its delegated foster carers? Or have they taken responsibility for themselves at far too tender ages?

Jesus had two dads who both took responsibility for aspects of childhood wellbeing. We live in a time when more and more children are finding their parents will not or cannot take responsibility for them. These are rarely clear-cut or easy decisions.

Stepping into this breach are a range of government and non-government caseworkers, relative and foster carers trying to replicate the love and belonging of birth family, something that is remarkably hard to do. And yet many do it well – and deserve special recognition and thanks.

So if you are going to pray this Christmas, spare a line or two for kids with too many parents or too few; for parents who have lost their kids and can’t seem to work it out; for carers who are family and those who are not, who raise kids with love; and for government and non-government workers who try to put this stuff together, usually with not a thanks to be found. Happy Christmas. Jesus had two daddies too…

Padre brings Christmas joy

FORTY indigenous students on Bickerton, an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, look forward to the end-of-year arrival of Dave Shrimpton, the Salvation Army’s ‘flying padre’.

‘The padre’s arrival has become a focus point for the whole community who come together, and the kids show what they have learnt during the year,’ said the school’s head teacher, Kirsten Morey. Read more at SMH online.

Don’t hide the Spirit behind sentiment at Christmas

A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...
Image via Wikipedia

Hundreds of thousands of Australians will sing Christmas carols this month at services and events organised by Christian churches.

It is a great point of connection for churches and the community and many of the carols are deeply spiritual songs that proclaim core Christian truths such as the deity of Jesus.

And while for many Australians it will be the only time in the year that they actually give voice to the faith they hide in their hearts, there is a discussion among church leaders as to what carols are actually appropriate.

The decision not to sing Jingle Bells at a Christmas service may seem fairly obvious; whether to sing  Away in a Manger may not be as clear.

Christianity Today has a discussion going on the use of Christmas carols and some issues have been raised which, frankly, never crossed my mind, and I’ve sung a few carols in my time.Read More »

Worshipping at the altar of popular culture: Hollywood Jesus

Hollywood Jesus no doubt started out as a genuine attempt to engage with popular culture but is now dangerously close to blasphemy, certainly in regard to its Santa Paws at Your Church “sweepstake”.

A promotional email sent out by Hollywood Jesus, a US Christian movie website, invites readers to enter a ‘Santa’s BFF (best friends forever?) contest in which first prize is a visit by Santa Paws, a free screening of the movie and DVD give-aways. Check it out:

The church does need to engage with culture and to communicate in a language that touches the heart and souls of real people.

But there is a place for purposeful discernment – what are we trying to achieve and what do we risk losing by gaining some temporary popularity? And probably we should ask, who is making money out of it?

When I first saw this email I felt sure it was a hoax, with a virus hiding behind every link. Or perhaps the Chaser boys had sent it out to see how many tacky Christians they could snare.

But it’s real and sincere and obviously no one involved saw a problem with it. And unless you pull back and ask, who is meant to be influencing who at Christmas time, or anytime, it might just slip by as another great way to get lots of unchurched families dropping into the church building to have a great old time.

Except what kind of Jesus could really be communicated in the sickly-sweet company of Santa Claus (or Paws), Walt Disney, Hollywood and good old American (and Australian) consumerist tripe!Read More »

How to handle Halloween and engage with our culture

Just as Christmas is one of the rare occasions (other than the deliverance of Chilean miners) when there is public reference to Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and angels, so too Halloween is increasingly a time for the mention of demons, spirits and the devil.

Whether it is small boys wandering supermarkets with the devil’s pitchfork, as I ponderously witnessed last week, or  a television weather presenter claiming to be surrounded with demons and spirits, Halloween is to the Christian an unnerving public foray into the dark side of the supernatural.

Most know little of Halloween’s history – how the church long ago sought to supplant a Celtic pagan festival that honoured the dead with a festival to remember the saints – All Hallow’s Day (preceded by All Hallow’s Eve – Hallowe’en). The battle for the spiritual heart of the occasion is still up for grabs.Read More »

Oprah’s visit recalls other Christmas arrivals

Oprah Winfrey.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

So Oprah is coming to Australia just before Christmas, including a show at the ‘Oprah House’ on December 14.

Made me think of some other great arrivals around Christmas time and the counter-cultural nature of the Messiah’s mission – just as shocking today as it was then.

While Oprah is bringing her own audience of 300, Jesus had a few animals, shepherds and mum and dad.

Oprah is arriving on a jet plane with a crew of 150, while an unborn Jesus arrived on a donkey with no room at the inn.

Oprah will take over the Opera House with her American audience, crew and ‘thousands’ of Australian fans. When Jesus arrived at Christmas, the angels sang opera but only a shire of shepherds noticed.

Oprah’s visit is expected to be great for Australian tourism although we expect Austria may also get an unexpected boost. Meanwhile Jesus’ visit has sent people travelling all over the planet for 2000 years starting with Persian magi and including many who died for their efforts in pursuing His purpose.

Oprah no doubt will have her detractors but ‘all publicity is good publicity’ in the wild world of television. Jesus had a few detractors too and we know how that turned out.

I do love Oprah’s generosity in springing this great gift on her audience, self-serving as it may be, to a greater or lesser extent.

I do love God’s generosity in giving Jesus, the one purely altruistic act of history, which can be received freely, no strings attached. And the good news is that it is good news forever, not just for this season’s rating period…  

No Christmas joy for Charlie despite $2 million a week

Charlie Sheen is America’s highest paid television star, being paid $2 million for each episode of Two and a Half Men.

Despite this, somehow he found himself so desperate, angry and dysfunctional that he held a knife to his wife’s throat on Christmas Day and threatened to kill her.

If that doesn’t convince us that fame and fortune are not the real source of happiness, nothing will. Not even a Man rising from the dead… PH