Pursued by goodness (thoughts on Psalm 23 for Good Shepherd Sunday)

23 04 2018

We read/sang Psalm 23 this morning and I want to turn now to look at the Psalm
to see what it might help us understand about the Good Shepherd.
It is probably the most well-known Psalm,
used at funerals and weddings alike,
and many of us have a favourite version of it.

I want to particularly talk about the last half of the Psalm this morning,
and particularly the last verse.
 
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

Presence and protection.

Though the staff might have been used to pull a sheep out of trouble or danger,
the rod wasn’t for rebuking wayward sheep,
but for fighting off anything that came to threaten the sheep.

You are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

Presence and protection.
No need to be afraid.

And then that beautiful image:
surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

 (Joel LeMon helps us understand this verse better).

“The word “follow” here (radaph) is better translated “pursue,” a surprising verb given that it is usually the enemies that are pursing the psalmist with an intent to overtake and destroy. Furthermore, in this same verse, the word “surely” (’aq) is better translated “only.” Thus it’s not the enemies in hot pursuit. Instead, “only goodness and mercy will be chasing me down.”

Not only do we have the presence and protection of the shepherd
we are being pursued by goodness and mercy.

I have been thinking this week
about why goodness and mercy need to pursue us.
Is it that we move so fast,
talk so fast,
assume the worst so fast,
hurt others that quickly,
that mercy has to hurtle down the road,
chasing us down,
calling out to us
what we have left behind in our haste to move on?

Do we dodge God’s goodness,
thinking we are not good enough,
not deserving?
Or maybe it is that God’s goodness
will change us when we are caught by it,
will teach us to live our lives
by laying them down for others
following the pattern of our Shepherd.

Whatever it is,
I am so grateful
that we are being pursued.

Pursued by goodness and mercy,
doggedly pursued
but even moreso graciously pursued.
 
Goodness and mercy all my days
shall surely follow me.

Amen.
Thanks be to God.

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Rightly ordered relationships.

2 05 2016

Version 2

“I’ve been thinking it would be better to be dead than to be gay”

 I was the Ecumenical Chaplain at the University of Waikato from 2005 – 2010, and in one semester, about three semesters in, five students came to see me, each sharing with me words very similar to these: “It would be better to be dead than to be gay”.

 I would never agree that it is better to be dead than to be gay. But as it stands, if you are dead and gay you could come to church and have a Christian funeral, celebrating God’s love for you and your hope in the resurrection. If you are alive and gay, however, living and loving, the Anglican Church in this country cannot yet find a way to declare God’s blessing on your relationship.

 The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is talking about human sexuality again. More specifically the conversation is about a report commissioned by General Synod, the body responsible for decision making at the highest level of this church – they are meeting at the end of this week. The report explores how it is possible to live with a diversity of views about same sex relationships in our church, and more specifically how we could live with the possibility of some Bishops and priests in some places believing it is right to bless same sex relationships and so wanting a liturgy in which that could happen, and some Bishops and priests not believing that.

 The question of same sex marriage is off the table. Though it has been legal in New Zealand for same sex couples to get married since 2013, and for eight years before that to enter into a civil union, General Synod in 2014 affirmed a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman. My belief is in “all the sacraments for all the baptised” (or all the sacramental actions for all the baptised), but this is not a possibility being considered.

 This is about couples who have a civil marriage being able to come to church for a blessing of their relationship, and for that relationship to then be considered ‘rightly ordered’ in all the places in the church’s life where that category matters.

 I am hopeful that the report will be received, the legislation passed and in the drawn out process of the church, hope very much for the changes to take effect in 2018.

 Some people do not believe that is a good, faithful, or biblical thing to have happen. Freedom to refuse these rites, either as a Diocese or as an individual priest or bishop, is provided for in the proposed ‘way forward’.

There are concerns about the impact it will have on evangelism, and on Christians, in more conservative parts of the world. Of course I wish for safety for my Christian brothers and sisters, but I also wish for safety for my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters: safety, and a warm welcome in communities of worship.

 And I am concerned about the impact on our ability to share the good news of God’s grace here and now in the culture we live in. In a national poll prior to the legislation being passed, 76% of under-35s in New Zealand were supportive of marriage equality. The church continues to have these conversations, conversations that are often characterised by debates about who is being most faithful (of the people in the room) and little grace seems to be offered to the actual humans we are having conversations about. I think those conversations place further barriers to all kinds of people perceiving God’s radical, life-changing love and hospitality as it was made known to us in Jesus.

 I don’t often talk publicly about my beliefs about this – in part because working ecumenically has meant having to facilitate collaborative relationships across enormous diversity. But that is also a luxury that 20 years of heterosexual marriage provides me – a marriage that is deemed by the church to be ‘rightly ordered’ because of biological sex and the privilege of Christian marriage. It seems to me that in all relationships it is the faithfulness, mutuality, joy, grit, generativity, grace, forgiveness and love of the relationship that really makes it ‘rightly ordered’. I hope that the church’s conversation this week will be another step to recognising those qualities in all marriages, and declaring God’s delight in and blessing on those marriages.  





How we talk about suicide.

26 01 2016

It isn’t a new idea.  Or my idea.  But it’s one I support.  Let’s stop saying that someone “committed suicide”.

Suicide is still a stigmatised death.  You only have to have one pastoral encounter with a heartbroken survivor of suicide (a family member, a friend, of someone who has died by suicide) who is afraid that the way their loved one dies would permanently prevent them from being received into God’s loving care, to understand that the way we speak about suicide, and the theological legacy it points to, needs to change.

While there are no explicit Scriptural prohibitions of suicide in Judaic or Christian Scriptures, teachings have arisen out of the prohibition of murder. There is a suggestion that shifts in Christian theology occurred in the early church under Roman rule, when some Christians died by suicide rather than be captured and tried, or to hasten their experience of an afterlife with God. Some considered these Christians to be martyrs, but writing in the fifth century, Augustine condemned such thinking declaring suicide to be self-murder and therefore an unpardonable sin. Aquinas, a significant thirteenth century voice in the shaping of theology in the western church developed Augustine’s idea and suggested that heaven would be denied to those who died by suicide.

I don’t believe that to be true.  And I’m in good (theological) company.  People who die by suicide can receive a Christian burial, be buried in the churchyard (if you happen to find one with plots still open), and the way that they died is not an unforgivable sin.

We say “committed” about sin.  We say it about crime.  We say it about adultery.  So how about we give up using that construction about suicide?  How about we say “died by suicide” or “died of suicide”?  It is accurate.  Suicide survivors’ organisations have asked us to make that shift.  And it points us away from the historic connection with criminality and unforgivable sins.

One surivivor of suicide writes, “By shifting our language around suicide, we have the power to reduce some of the massive shame carried by survivors of suicide. If you feel scared or helpless about what to say to someone who’s lost someone to suicide, take comfort in knowing that, by changing your language about suicide, you’re offering a countercultural act of kindness”.

Read more: http://themighty.com/2015/07/please-stop-saying-committed-suicide/#ixzz3iOtt0GMR





Serene 2016

23 01 2016
IMG_1922

Mellon’s Bay.  Ideal spot to increase one’s serenity quotient!

A friend of mine has adopted “serene 2016” as her slogan for the year.  To be fair her 2015 was a year with more than a fair share of dramatic life changes.

My 2015 was less dramatic, but wasn’t straightforward.  It turns out that studying full-time and working half-time isn’t as feasible as it sounded when I compared it to the undergraduate life of my 20s! There were some health glitches along the way: an immune system that one specialist at the hospital says is best described as “hinky”.  It isn’t clear whether this is a continuation of the sarcoidosis that hit so hard in 2011, or something else, but there have been a lot of hospital appointments and quite a lot of outpatient physiotherapy.

So now it is 2016.  And I’m going to study half-time and work half-time as that equation seems to make more sense! I also plan to walk the dog, swim in the sea, do the exercises prescribed by the physio team, knit many things, and try to stay a bit more connected to friends and family this year.

In the meantime there’s a literature review about teenage dating violence to work on, a research proposal for a dissertation about counselling and contemplative practices to write, a resource about Lent and Easter worship with children to publish for the Diocese, and a hat to knit for a friend.

I also sit on the Board of RevGalBlogPals Inc.  It’s an international organisation of women clergy and their friends that grew out of a community of bloggers.  There are over 200 blogs affiliated with our community, and over 3000 members of the Facebook group.  Once a month I get to read all the blogposts published that week by writers around the world, mostly women clergy, and it has inspired me to begin to write again.





Rainbow

15 06 2015

IMG_1425

The rainbow came out while my back was toward it.

Of course.

Actually, by the time I reached the edge of the bay, the tide limiting our onward path, and turned back towards where the rainbow had been, it was gone.

Fortunately there was dog poop.  As I turned from picking up after Charlie, I saw the rainbow.

It seemed, in that moment, so true.  That the rainbow comes out while our back is turned.

I thought about what to write.

There might be a poem, if there wasn’t an essay due tomorrow.  Some finely crafted piece of writing, if I didn’t need to hastily garden before the green waste collection service comes in the morning.  I would work that metaphor for its truth about walking down the beach in a bad mood, or about the graces I don’t or won’t see…  Or something.

But there is an essay due tomorrow (and it isn’t finished yet).

And the garden does need weeding and the bathrooms need cleaning.  And the dinner needs making. And that essay, even when it has all the words and ideas it needs, will need editing.

So let it simply be said: the rainbow came out while my back was turned.

Also: thank goodness for dog’s doing their business.





There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

5 05 2015
A woman in the pulpit with "A Woman in the Pulpit"

A woman in the pulpit with “A Woman in the Pulpit”

It began for me in 2009.  I was awarded a sabbatical scholarship and began to write a blog as a way of sharing the fruits of my study.  I had enjoyed reading other blogs – and found a community of women clergy (and their friends) from around the world who were also publishing their words on the web.  I found company in their writing: challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  And when I moved to China where there weren’t many English-speaking, liturgical ordained women, the virtual friendships became even more important.

Now there’s a book.  And it’s a great book.  And I’m not just saying that because it includes a story about the community I was a pastor with when I lived in China.  I’m saying that because in it you will experience challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  It is full of women writing with warmth and wit and wisdom about what it is like to be a woman in the pulpit, and a woman in the home, the hospital, the baptistry, the paddock, the graveyard and all the other places our ministries take us.

When you enter ministry you don’t really know what it will be like.  You cobble together some impressions and you get some education and you take careful notes at the field education seminars.  Then they let you loose* to preside at communion and to baptise; to sit with the dying and to show up for the bereaved; to be invited into the moments of joy and vulnerability and ordinariness that comprise people’s lives.  What a life! (*in my tradition they less let you loose and more ordain and license you but it still feels a bit wild sometimes!)

If you would like to catch glimpses of this life, ‘There’s a Woman in the Pulpit’ is a great book to read.  If you need company in your ministry, this is a great book to read.  If someone you know is in ministry and you’d like to understand a bit more about what their life is like, this is a great book to read.  If you are interested in the diversity of women’s experiences, this is a great book to read.  If you like funny books, this is a great book to read.  If you like books that challenge and provoke, this is a great book to read.  If you want to get up close and personal with life and death and hope and love and grace and mercy; with water, word, wine or wool; with women in ministry from 5 countries and 14 denominations… with any or all of that I highly recommend this book.

All the ordering information is at the RevGals site.

You can also order it from Good Books and support Oxfam at the same time.  The price includes shipping worldwide:





ANZAC Day

25 04 2015

I’m a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and, as such, believe that the waging of war is incompatible with Christian life.  It is also true that other Christians believe differently, and, however we believe, war is an ever-present reality in our world.

I have family members who served in the war and others who were members of the Armed Forces.  They, in good conscience, believed that it was the right and good thing for them to do.  My mother served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

It is complicated.  We should remember war, those who died and those who mourn.  We should remember because war is costly and I long for the day when war is only to be remembered.

Here are some words I wrote for the beginning of worship this Sunday at All Saints in Howick.  The bit about hoping war will bring a better world is the tricky bit for me.  I’m not sure war can make the world better, but I do think that those that go to war hope that things will be better than they are.  That the tyrants and bullies will be halted.  That peace will come.

Yesterday was ANZAC Day and this year we have remembered the 100th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli.

Some of you are have family members who served in the First World War,

some of you served in other wars.

This morning we remember.

We remember not to glorify or sentimentalise war.

We remember because war is bloody,

war scars people and places,

even as we hope that it will bring a better world.

 

We remember the soldiers.

We remember the soldiers who fought,

those who died,

and those who mourned, who still mourn, their passing.

 

We remember the medics, the nurses, the drivers.

The code-breakers, translators and chaplains.

 

We remember those who would not go to war.

Those whose courage was shown in conscientious objection.

 

We remember all those who live with the consequences of war.

 

We remember because we are the people who worship the Prince of Peace.

 

We are called to work and pray for that day

when the lion and lamb lie down together,

when swords are beaten into ploughshares

when we do not know war anymore.

That day is not yet,

and so we keep a moment of silence together.

  

Amen. Come Christ Jesus come.