Monday, June 25, 2012

CP 182 The suffocating beast...

CP 182 The suffocating beast

Hello friends, this week it’s the ‘grumpy old Fred’ who is on deck. The piece I’ve written below has no connection with the CrossPurposes of Jesus the Christ. Best way to say it is that it is about one of the (few) things that makes Fred cross! And since I’m time poor this week I thought I’d just unload it on you. It was originally written for the HECKLER Column in the Sydney Morning Herald here in Sydney. Make sure you read the concluding comments. Fred
The suffocating beast

It’s 8.45pm on Saturday evening. The wedding formalities have come to an end. Some speeches were genuinely funny. Some of the content was agonisingly corny. A few were joyfully wise. The cake has been cut. The requisite photos have been snapped. The bride and groom have negotiated the bridal waltz. The bridal party and the respective parents have joined in, as they must. The MC has finished his work. It’s 8.45pm and it is time to go home.

I don’t want to go home. I’m not ready to leave. I’d prefer to stay. After all, I’m surrounded by favourite rellies and vibrant friends, both young and old. I haven’t caught up with all of them yet. Whenever we’re together there is always raucous laughter and rich conversation. We have such stories to tell each other. There are still jokes unrepeated or untold. But it’s 8.45 pm and I’m unable to stay.

I’m sad and resentful. Time was when a man was free to continue singing and dancing, hugging, laughing and chatting until midnight. When the meal was over I could roam, reconnecting with young and old. But it is no longer possible. The old order has passed away, the new has come. At 8.45pm a force will assert itself. Its coming is inevitable. Resistance is impossible. It overwhelms me. I will leave. I must leave.

A beast announces his presence at 8.45pm. Not that everyone thinks of him as a beast. Many of the young, and some of the rest, worship him. But I know him as a thoughtless, heartless, inconsiderate, conversation-destroying beast. I know he has come when his peculiar darkness explodes over everybody and everything. Within his invasive darkness I no longer hear words, not even my own words.  

The beast speaks. His speaking is a suffocating, ugly noise. In this dark realm of the beast the noise is a deafening, physical and relentless weapon. It assaults my whole being. It reverberates inside my head. It rattles my nerves and shakes my soul. Under this ghastly onslaught there is no further place for those whose enjoyment is in conversation. A joyful communal celebration of family and friends of all ages, has been turned, in the blink of an eye, into an orgy of exclusive and excluding noise.

The beast tolerates no other. No intelligible speech is permitted after his arrival. He dismisses with contempt all who long for a gentler room. Under his dominion words are meaningless. While the beast beats me with his incessant and oppressive noise I cannot hear you. I refuse to accede to his demand for my silence. My only recourse, at 8.45pm, is to leave.

This beast has a name. It is DJ.

(For many years I have wondered if there is any way to reclaim music and song at weddings for the enjoyment of guests of all ages and cultures. In the last 20 years this part of the wedding celebration has become an exclusive party for a select group… and that is not only selfish, but also incredibly sad. I have watched many a grandma and grandpa leave wedding receptions early and unwillingly. They have said again and again that the joy of ‘catching up’ with rellies and friends is denied them because they simply couldn’t cope with the volume put out by the DJ.   )

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

CP 181 The turd in the field...

CP 181  The turd in the field…

Just before leaving the Woden Parish in Canberra a woman from a nearby church said to me, “You are a loving and wise man.” She apparently saw something of those qualities in me. I took it as encouragement. I’m always happy to be encouraged. Who isn’t? I thought about that because earlier in the week I’d shared with a friend something less savoury which was said to me by a parishioner maybe 30 years ago.

In a little corner, of a little corner, of an obscure part of a far away parish there once dwelt an elder who didn’t like me much. Not at all in fact. His two sons even less so, if that were possible. One day I had to confront them over something ugly which had transpired in the previous week. I raised my concern. He hit the roof. Called me many things, a couple of which I have never been able to forget. The first was, “You’re just a useless educated *-*-*!” The second followed immediately. “You’re no more a Pastor than a turd out in the field is a Pastor!”

I needed to respond, of course. I said, without rancour, that if that was what He believed then I was unable to give him Holy Communion next Sunday. His blood pressure rose visibly. He ‘made it clear’ I should leave. As I left, his wife, with whom I got on well, asked me, in a whisper, to pray for her. I nodded. I went to a safe place where loving saints ministered to me.

There are some things I want to share about that ‘naming’. First, I hate such confrontation but was surprised by the clarity of thought and the absence of anger. Secondly, I was surprised to find I had courage when I needed courage. Thirdly, I forgave them, and indeed helped them to a healthy repentance six weeks later.

There was another thing about his names. I refused to take them on board. I refused, and refuse, to live under names our heavenly Father would not use for me. That is not to say that I’m always innocent and right in all I say and do. Far from it. However, I live under his forgiveness and welcome the nudge of the Holy Spirit, (or his four by two!,) which causes me to know my sin in the light of the Cross.

Such is my conviction. Still, I am often surprised to discover that I have been living under names bestowed on me many years ago by parents, siblings, teachers, clergy and other authority figures. Back then I believed them. And in believing them and living accordingly I brought the  weight of them into many relationships, especially in the closer ones involving family, friends and the saints. Each time I become aware of one of these names I have learned to acknowledge my sin in taking it on board and rejoice that the Father forgives and the Lord Jesus Christ sets me free of it.

Another conviction? My story is your story! All of us bring with us the baggage of childhood (and later). All of us burden our lives and other lives with perceptions and convictions about our selves and others which distort the way we relate to others, especially those close to us. When we live according to our ‘un-named names’ there is always a negative impact on us and those with whom we are connected. Thank God we do not need to be bound by these things.

 Here is the truth. We can be free of it. The Cross is about both forgiveness AND being cleaned up. If you don’t believe me read 1 John 1:7-9. The scripture does not lie to us any more than Christ does not lie to us. We are not made to live under that sort of curse. We are made for freedom! So if you get the ‘nudge of truth’ you don’t have to go into flight, fight, or fright. Let yourself tell the truth to yourself. And then go to the Cross. That is where we find the shepherd who heals us and names us with heaven’s name. For heaven’s sake, do it!

Love and peace be all over you.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CP 180 High Schools - Hidden Costs

CP 180  High Schools  - Hidden Costs.

The last 30 years or so have seen an astonishing surge in the number of Lutheran High Schools / Colleges in Australia. Largely funded by Federal Government grants, Lutheran High Schools have earned a reputation second to none for the quality of education they provide. There has also been a genuine dynamic in the way most of these schools have linked with local communities. The schools have received plaudits both nationally and locally for the social and communal contributions they have made. In large part the success of the schools has meant that we have not felt the need to look over our shoulder so frequently to check if the community approves of us.

In many of these high schools the proportion of ‘Lutheran’ students is quite small. In one school, with more than 1100 students, there are only a handful of children of members of the Lutheran Church. While almost all parents choose our schools for reasons of law, ie values, quality of education, discipline and structure, it means we have a ready-made, captive audience for our mission work with the gospel. And don’t we rejoice about that opportunity. Our mission and its achievements are mentioned in every article / item about our Lutheran High Schools.

I confess to having questions / concerns, even misgivings, about our ‘success’ in regard to Lutheran High Schools. Our success comes with ‘costs’ which are rarely mentioned. Let me state some of them.

  1. My children, indeed all State system children, had few if any Christian friendships at High School. We could not afford to send them to a Christian School, and most of the Christian kids were withdrawn from the State system.

  1. My children, indeed all State system children and teachers, were deprived of the influence of Christian teachers at State High Schools because they had almost all been siphoned off to the Christian Schools. A lot of yeast has been removed from very needy dough!

  1. Sending a child to High School costs money, a lot of money. I’ll stick my neck out and assert that parents who pay school fees have less to give to the local congregations. It would be an interesting study to check if there has been a correlation between the growth in Lutheran Schools and the collapse of General Church and District finances since 1980.

  1. Parental support for the School and its projects is considered essential and even compulsory. Time is required. Energy is required. The result is that the local congregations are robbed of the time and energy which might otherwise be available. All the worse because we are now (mostly) two-income families which are time-poor anyway.

  1. Are we getting fruit? This is one of my chief bugbears concerning this subject. Are we getting the one ‘kingdom-fruit’ we look for above all others? Are the Colleges producing believers in Jesus Christ the Lord who are worshipping kids? More specifically, who continue to worship when their school years have ended? I know there are always some, but having pastored in both Canberra and Sydney I have learnt not to be astonished at how many kids from Lutheran High Schools all over Australia have cited their compulsory 'Christian' involvements at School as the main reason for disinterest, non-involvement and non-attendance. The worship problem is not only about when kids leave school. I once worshipped with a Lutheran congregation which had a school ‘attached’. It boasted over 170 students. There were only three in worship on that Sunday. Sometimes I wonder if the schools might be the death of us.

  1. One final comment. In both Canberra and Sydney it has been my conclusion that it was the students who attended State schools who were best able to handle the inevitable challenges to faith which came from the secular world. They were also the free-est, most generous and most joyful contributors to whatever we did. Maybe our Colleges mollycoddle our children to their detriment?

Anyway, that’s enough from me. As always I’m happy for feedback. Any discussion is better than bland acceptance of the highly promoted and self-congratulatory status quo.

Have a ‘blessed in Christ’ week.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

CP 179 Lost... but still together...

CP 179 Lost… but still together…
 One of my aunts died in Holland last December. She was a sister of my mum. I spent 5 days with her in 1998 at her home in Leusden. I had not met her before then, nor did I see her again afterwards. However she occupied a place of ‘specialness’ in my heart because she was close to my mum in a special way. My mum was 11 years old when her own mother died. At the time my aunt Therese was only two years old. To all intents and purposes it was my mother who became her ‘mother’. Also, having lived in Canada for many years, she spoke excellent English. When I stayed with Therese in 1998 I had a great time with her. Among many other things, she was delighted to fill in many of the gaps in my knowledge of my mother’s life-story.
Some years after my visit she was diagnosed with alzeimers disease. Her daughter and family were unwilling spectators as this once vibrant and feisty woman slowly lost recognition of them, of herself and of her own life. After her funeral an ‘in memoriam’ page was sent to overseas family. It rejoiced in the respect accorded to Therese during her illness. It also included two short poems which I share with you. No authors are mentioned. Here is the first:
“Slowly I forget who I am,
 slowly I forget who I know.
 Slowly it glides away,
 slowly I no longer know what I say.
 I hold fast to something I trust,
 I hold fast to the people I love.”
And here is the second:
“I’m confused beyond your knowing.
 I am sad and sick and lost.
 All I know is that I need you
 to be with me at all cost.
 Do not lose your patience with me.
 Do not scold or curse or cry.
 I can’t help the way I’m acting,
 can’t be different ‘though I try.
 Just remember that I need you,
 that the best of me is gone.
 Please don’t fail to stand beside me.
 Love me ‘til my life is done.

To all of this I add a third piece of verse, wondrously written, and wondrously translated, which reminds me that all is not lost when it seems all is lost. Indeed there is one who never ever loses sight of me and who will deliver a ‘togetherness’ which will bring exceeding joy when and where it really matters. So here it is:


We look at this Son
and see the God who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son
and see God’s original purpose in everything created.
For everything, absolutely everything,
above and below, visible and invisible,
rank after rank of angels –
everything got started in him
and finds its purpose in him.

He was there before any of it came into existence
and holds it all together right up to this moment.
And when it comes to the church,
he organises and holds it together,
like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning and –
leading the resurrection parade –
he is supreme in the end.
From beginning to end he is there,
towering far above everything, everyone.
So spacious is he, so roomy,
that everything of God finds its proper place in him
without crowding.
Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe –
people and things, animals and atoms –
get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies,
all because of his death,
his blood that poured down from the Cross.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does…
Colossians 1:15-21 [The Message - Eugene Peterson]

Amen… It is so!

Great to hold fast at Trinity time.

Have a blessed week.  Fred