Friday, 24 December 2010

Holding Fast & Still Fighting.

With all the garbage spouted in the name of Christianity by Sydney Anglican leaders and their sycophants it’s easy to forget that God is still very much present here. Contrary to the impression I worry my blog has often given, Christ hasn’t simply thrown in the towel and left. There are still parishes where those not prepared to baptise misogyny and bigotry are welcome, and where “biblical teaching” isn’t simply an oxymoronic euphemism for rehashing the same old theologically dubious misinterpretations of Romans.

Nor should anyone for a moment believe the official lie about these churches dying. They’re not. In fact the so-called “liberal” churches are flourishing. (To understand that term as it’s used in Sydney you need to remember that wearing a cassock and surplice is generally defined as “high church”, and women reading the Bible aloud in the presence of men is routinely derided as “liberal” by at least one member of standing committee.) Whilst Archbishop Jensen’s vision for 10% growth has proven a spectacular failure, many non-party line churches (i.e. those identifying with the broader Anglican Communion) have exceeded this target many times over.

It was at one such place that I spent a really wonderful morning a few Sundays back. The minister – someone I respect enormously – was celebrating his twentieth year of service in the parish. Between the regular congregation, prominent members of the local community, and a score of notorious diocesan troublemakers ;-D the church was packed with those whom against all odds were found by Christ and held fast in love: old-age pensioners, young professional couples and their children, more than a few ex-prisoners (including one fellow who looked suspiciously like he was out on day-release), former Moore-college lecturers and ne'er-do-wells, and teenagers just beginning upon the voyage that is faith. The sick, the healthy, the learned and the illiterate: together we sung God’s praise, declared our belief, shared in the Sacraments, and heard the Gospel proclaimed in the face of a machine which would deny many of us present have any right to call ourselves Christians.

After the sermon (which was one of the very few I’ve ever heard that can honestly be described as life-changing), the minister shared something of his own journey. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say he’s someone whom can even speak graciously of the diocese which tried to sue his wife rather make a claim upon insurance policies (the case was quickly withdrawn when the local secular media found out). Nor was I the only one left feeling deeply empowered and encouraged by the time he’d finished.

As you’d expect the Anglican Church League power-brokers were conspicuous in their absence: no bishop bothered attending. The only diocesan representative was a single archdeacon, who left as soon as the service was over. As an old friend I was great to see again said afterwards, “Perhaps the venerable archdeacon just felt embarrassed by his ridiculous vestments” – in that part of the city on a Sunday morning the only people wearing a business suit are shonky real-estate agents. Even lawyers visiting clients whose Saturday night excesses have ended in the police lock up don’t bother dressing like that anymore – so much for the prevailing local “wisdom” that the best way for a priest to relate to the unchurched involves impersonating a business man.

In fact what looked awfully like an unofficial boycott on the part of the heirarchy meant there was actually a bigger representation from the local mosque, who’d come to show their respect for someone they recognise as a leading “Man of the Book” than there was from those leading the diocese in which this minister has spent his life serving. Which can’t help reminding me of something I once read somewhere about prophets not being welcome in their own country…

So please - don't stop praying for us, or for dioceses like Newcastle (Australia) or Christchurch (New Zealand) where Sydney's Matthians (the more accurate term for what are often called "the Jensenites") have most aggressively pursued their tactic of border crossing. Your prayers are heard, just as are ours of thanksgiving for the faithful commitment to love, justice and truth shown by American Episcopalians, Canadians, and those in the C of E who haven't been seduced by a gospel of poison and power.

And never forget it'll take more than misogyny, bigotry and hatred to silence the Holy Spirit!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Don't miss this one.

It's early Saturday morning and I was just grabbing a cup of coffee and a quick peek at the Herald before taking the gang swimming when I saw this article: Macho boys' club 'cost Anglicans millions'.

It's a concise and accurate insight into the way the machine works here, and please pray for Rev. Bradford, the priest speaking out. He's going to need all the support he can get. Also please try to not split your sides laughing at Bishop Forsyth (who was - and continues to be - a member of the committee responsible for the diocese's disastrous and idiotically negligent investment policies) as he refutes the notion that a macho culture exists: "One of the problems with church organisations is they're often too nice."


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

For my Father.

It’s twenty years to the day since my father died. I remember the hospital calling at about 4 o’clock on a warm Saturday afternoon: December 1 is the first day of summer here, the jasmine was in bloom and the grass needed mowing. Already there were things I’d wished I told him, as well as things I’d wished I never said.

The world is a different place two decades later. Yes, those wishes remain, but they’ve lost their sting. Maybe that’s just the passing of time, although I think it’s got more to with my having now trodden some of the same dark paths through which his life also passed. Because in their aftermath I’ve found – much as he did – what it is to be surprised by the Grace that those who speak most of life in the next world too often fail to see in this one. And in the light of that Grace the regrets of the old dispensation no longer wield the same power.

To mark the day we laid flowers on the place where his ashes rest: rich-scented gardenias cut from our front garden, and a purple hydrangea Mister Two-and-a-Half picked from the driveway, next to where we park. Fiver and Blackstar were more interested in the tiny lizards hiding in the rose-beds, and Miss Four-but-Nearly-Five asked questions about the Grandfather she’s never met.

Answering her is never easy. She’s fascinated by him, but how do you explain a late Edwardian North English childhood to a twenty-first century child on the far side of the world? Or that he was sent away to boarding school when barely out of infancy? What hope can she – or any of us – have of understanding what it was to grow up in the shadow of the war to end all wars, every day another bringing another reminder of the boys whom only a few years previously had slept in your dormitory, but who now rested in rows beneath the poppies of Flanders fields? Or do I tell her of him training in the North Sea merchant fleet; or about the depression, and a well-off family falling on hard times? And then perhaps about a commission in His Majesty’s Navy, about mine-sweeping and the surrender of Italy, and about living through the dusk of an empire on which he’d been raised believing the sun never set.

“But what was your Daddy like?” is how she usually opens our conversations about him. Anyone who’s seen a picture of him laughs, and says “Just like your brother”, which is in one sense quite right; the resemblance is uncanny. Yet she’s already old enough to know that’s not really true. Her brother never fought in Britain’s darkest hour, and he’ll never have a lifetime of nightmares by which to remember that fight. He hasn’t watched an evil junta raping a nation with whom he’s fallen hopelessly in love. He knows nothing of Lenin, nor Comrade Stalin, nor can he ever live what it it was that drove so many young men of my father’s generation and class to embrace the Soviet Union as humanity’s last (and only) hope.

So I do my best to explain public-school cooking, and why he left McCarthy’s America in the 1950s. She asks how he met my mother, and if he ever went to New Zealand at Christmas time like we do. She puzzles over why he didn’t like ballet, but is awe of his ability to speak Russian: her second favourite DVD is the Bolshoi performaning Nutcracker. Her first is The Little Mermaid, but it will be years before I tell her what he thought of Disney and she still can’t quite believe that he died before DVD players were invented because for her people have always had them. Then her brother interrupts explain that Thomas the Tank Engine lives in England, just like Grandad once did, and it starts to rain so we run back to the car where I hug wet children and wet dogs and tell them all how much I love them before we drive home and make hot chocolate because unlike that December 1st twenty years ago today is cold and wet and the jasmine flowers still aren’t out but the grass is still long even though I mowed it only a week before.

One of the first memories I have of my father – perhaps my earliest memory – is of him laughing as he jumped from a car and ran into the house in defiance of a Singapore curfew. When we meet again he’ll be laughing in exactly the same way. And so shall I.