How to accommodate racism

How to accommodate racism within Christianity? It can be accomplished by adding things to scripture, sure, but it’s much more effectively accomplished by taking things away. People don’t notice that as much. 

Rather than twisting the story of the curse of Ham into a justification for enslaving blacks, as more open racists are inclined towards, the same effect can be achieved by downplaying, and thus encouraging forgetfulness of, the social implications of the acts and teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets. 

For example, speak and sing of your personal relationship with Jesus, but don’t mention the kingdom of God so much. Or if you must mention it, spiritualize it or individualize it as much as you can. It only has to be within your heart okay? In fact, encourage individualistic responses at every opportunity, keep people gazing at their navels so they never have to look up. 

Oh, and don’t join any dots between the slavery of Jews in Egypt and slavery of blacks in America, or elsewhere, as that might give people the idea that some of our ancestors have a grubby past we have to deal with. 

And all those calls by the Old Testament prophets for us to seek justice, act mercifully, walk humbly, etc, let’s just not go there okay? People will forget soon enough if we never remind them in our sermons or our songs. 

But most importantly, never, never, never, draw attention to the political dimensions of the crucifixion of Jesus, what led up to it, or what followed after it.

Bible heroes weren’t all moral models

The problem with using the Old Testament stories as morality tales is that even the best of the patriarchs, judges, and kings had serious character flaws. The most obvious example is King David, who, despite his outstanding faith amongst the kings, nevertheless committed rape and murder. If anything these stories show us the pervasiveness of sin, how it gets even the best of us, and consequently, why we need a saviour. If we’re looking for guidance on how to live, we should be starting with the Saviour, who the prophets themselves eagerly awaited.

Two women in need

Many of the gospel stories have subtexts that will remain hidden to the reader without proper attention to Jewish symbolism. 

A good example is found in the threefold account of the two women in need from Mark 5:21-43. It begins with a father, Jarius, seeking help from Jesus for his dying daughter. Jesus sets out on the road. On the way Jesus encounters a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years and heals her. As Jesus arrives at the house of Jarius he is informed the daughter has passed away in the interim. Jesus raises her and at that point we are informed she was twelve years old. 

Now these acts can be legitimately interpreted as further demonstrations of God’s power acting through Jesus and be left at that. But there’s a deeper level of meaning for those with the eyes to see. The hint is in the highlighting of the number twelve twice within that short sequence. Repetitions in ancient narratives are rarely accidental. For ancient Jews the number twelve generally served as a symbol for the people of Israel. So the two women both represent the people of Israel collectively in some way. How? This is where some awareness of ancient Jewish purity culture becomes important. Within that culture menstruating women and dead bodies were both considered unclean, and touching them rendered whoever touched them unclean as well, and consequently barred from entering the temple and drawing close to God. And what did Jesus do? In both cases he touched them. And in that welcoming touch, instead of Jesus being contaminated and cut off from God the women experienced reintegration into the community and the awareness of being acceptable from God. That transgressing of ritual boundaries had the opposite effect to what purity culture told everyone to expect. But, as we’ve already noted, their story is supposed to also serve as a microcosm for the larger story of Israel. It hints at Israel’s corruption and need for cleansing, but also of God’s willingness to cleanse if they would only reach out like the woman at the centre of the story sequence.

A prayer for Australia Day

Prayer for January 26th 

written by Rev Katherine Rainger

Before you our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,

We remember that we stand on holy ground

We acknowledge the stories of this land

We acknowledge the peoples of this land

We acknowledge the lore of this land

We acknowledge the languages of this land

We acknowledge that this land and her peoples 

are in need of healing

Give us compassion  

to hear and to feel the pain of lives torn apart

to hear and feel the pain of land that is damaged 

            and mistreated – sold to the highest bidder

Give us conviction

             to name where we benefit from the

             dispossession of First Peoples

             to see where injustice has taken hold

             and to not look away

Give us the courage 

to listen, to see, to feel, to name 

the pain, 

the loss, 

the theft and 

the resistance.

May we be inspired by truth-tellers, 

Justice-seekers and peace-makers in every age. 

Turn our inaction into action. 

We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ


Journeying with the Magi

From the eastern mountains

Godfrey Thring (1823-1903)

From the eastern mountains
pressing on they come,
wise men in their wisdom,
to his humble home;
stirred by deep devotion,
hasting from afar,
ever journeying onward,
guided by a star.

There their Lord and Saviour
meek and lowly lay,
wondrous light that led them
onward on their way,
ever now to lighten
nations from afar,
as they journey homeward
by that guiding star.

Thou who in a manger
once hast lowly lain,
who dost now in glory
o’er all kingdoms reign,
gather in the peoples,
who in lands afar
ne’er have seen the brightness
of thy guiding star.

Onward through the darkness
of the lonely night,
shining still before them
with thy kindly light,
guide them, Jew and Gentile,
homeward from afar,
young and old together,
by thy guiding star.

Until every nation,
whether bond or free,
‘neath thy star-lit banner,
Jesu, follow thee
o’er the distant mountains
to that heavenly home,
where nor sin nor sorrow
evermore shall come.

Calling the quarters for Advent

Hills of the North, Rejoice

Charles Ernest Oakley (1832-1865)

Hills of the North, rejoice,
river and mountain-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing.
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.

Isles of the Southern seas,
sing to the listening earth,
carry on every breeze
hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew,
his word is sure, his promise true.

Lands of the East, arise,
he is your brightest morn,
greet him with joyous eyes,
praise shall his path adorn:
your seers have longed to know their Lord;
to you he comes, the final word.

Shores of the utmost West,
lands of the setting sun,
welcome the heavenly guest
in whom the dawn has come:
he brings a never-ending light
who triumphed o’er our darkest night.

Shout, as you journey home,
songs be in every mouth,
lo, from the North they come,
from East and West and South:
in Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the universe be blest.

Let’s talk about power

Christians, I think we need to have a talk about power, and in particular, the important distinction between domination and empowerment. Domination is power-taking, it works by crushing others down. The image that comes to mind is a black hole sun, that sucks up everything in its orbit. The second type is power-giving, especially to the powerless. It works by building people up. The image that comes to mind is a bright yellow sun, that radiates warmth and sustains life. Jesus adopted the mode of a servant, washing the feet of his disciples and lifting up downtrodden women as demonstrations of what real power was about. He was not lacking in power. He had power to share. And he encouraged them, dominant ones in particular, to see things with new eyes. The truly powerful one is the one who gives out of their abundance of power

A prayer for living the gospel

From the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
we call to mind your presence within us and around us.

Open our ears that we may hear your Word.
Open our hearts that we may understand your Word.
Open our mouths that we may speak your World.

Inspire us with the Gospel message,
that we may celebrate all that is life-giving,
restore hope where it has been lost,
and work to bring about change where it is needed.

May we live the Gospel with courage, 
constancy and love.
May we be open to the challenge 
of your call to true freedom.
May we be faithful to you in our daily choices and decisions.
May we make your love known 
through our words and actions.

May the triune God reign in our hearts, now and forever.


Divinity and Gender in Christianity

I’d just like to float a few thoughts here related to divinity and gender in Christianity. Whilst I would affirm that God transcends gender, and assert such a view is completely biblical, based on texts like Genesis 1:27 and others, there’s no denying that the bible uses masculine metaphors for God more often than feminine ones. The question is though: masculine in relation to what? In more recent times a lot of folks have said: well, in relation to a goddess. But that’s not the impression I get from surveying Christian tradition. Rather, the answer from Christian tradition seems to be: in relation to the people of God. Now, the divine consort metaphors from the Bible are somewhat multivalent. Sometimes they seem to suggest Israel, other times the Church, other times Mary as the mother of the Church, other times the human soul, or even, the presence of the Spirit of God within the human heart. But in every case, the guiding metaphor seems to be a spiritual experience as a sacred marriage, with God being the initiator and us being the recipients. The language is often in terms of a bride and groom, or wife and husband. And nowhere is this more evident than in mystical interpretations of the Song of Songs. In light of this I find the introduction to John’s second letter quite suggestive: “To the Lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth”. Now, such metaphors may not sit so comfortably with us today, given the implied hierarchy, but I wonder if they still have some relevance for us. After all, they require male church leaders to think of themselves as the bride.

Sick of Political Correctness?

I find myself disturbed when my efforts to exercise discipline over how I speak to others, and about others, is casually dismissed as “political correctness”. The brother of Jesus did after all urge us to tame our tongues. He wrote,

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)