Saturday, 17 May 2008

Perspectives

Yesterday I had a bone scan. It involved being injected with something that was mildly radioactive, going home and returning a couple of hours later to lie on an extremely narrow bed while an immense machine gesticulated around and above me. I was trussed up like a chook for dinner, albeit really quite comfortably, and asked to keep still for about half an hour. I couldn't quite manage it. I had a cold you see, one of the sort that behaves itself when you are standing up but not when you are lying down. I managed to control the urge to cough reasonably well except for, I think, three times where there might now be a little blurry line on the picture. I came home with a blocked nose, red eyes, sore throat and went to bed for the afternoon feeling miserable. Odd really. The disease which is potentially lethal causes me no trouble whatsoever - I wouldn't even know it was there if they hadn't told me - but a common cold causes me a great deal of inconvenience and distress.

Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels which is the same sort of thing. The minor issues are the ones that take all the time and grab all the attention. The big issues, the life and death ones, we pass over quickly if we even see them at all.

For example...

... I spent the first 9 years of my ministry in co-operating parishes, which were somebody's bright idea sometime back in the '70's. The plan was to combine Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian parishes into one happy family. It was a good idea, and a lot of effort was put into administrative matters: making sure property rights and regulations for the length of time a parson could stay were all sorted out, for example. A whole new book of rules was written to be put on the shelf beside the individual denominational ones. The trouble is, no-one but NO-ONE bothered to work out the theological issues involved in combining churches with very different spiritualities and traditions. No one thought through the sociological issues involved in combining a number of different communities. Gnats were strained. Camels were swallowed - or at least the attempt was made with fairly predictable results. Co-operating parishes, with one or two notable exceptions, are not one of the churches' brilliant success stories.

And today I look through the papers for the synod my diocese will hold soon, and which I won't be attending. I am encouraged that there is a real attempt to examine the malaise of the Anglican church but, to my eyes, the solutions suggested look like Coldrex, not the required radical surgery.

The Anglican church is not in decline because it is badly administered, so it's fairly obvious that we won't cure its ills by administrative means. Jigging around the way we organise our clergy or how we pay them or how we draw diocesan or parish boundaries just won't do the trick. Neither will arguing the minutiae of our liturgies. The big issues eating away at our church are spiritual and theological. This is why, in this sabbatical, I have decided to think about Being rather than ministry models. To some this path of enquiry seems effete and esoteric, but this is where 30 years of parish ministry has led me. If the church is going to survive, we must reassess ourselves at the deepest, most profound level. People are as hungry as ever for answers to the big questions of life. If such answers can be found, people are seldom really bothered by the surface details of how and where they are delivered. There are camels everywhere, but I fear that the church is intensely preoccupied with the blueprints for gnat sieves.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kelvin, it must be an apprehensive time for you as you await the results of your scan. I shall be thinking of you and praying for you this week.

Why is someone not marketing this Dunedin house abroad as the The Leaning House of some Dunedin Gezza? The interesting about the photograph is the simple reminder that things are not always what they seem to be – as you point out the equivalence between the ‘I’ and our ‘Thinking’ is an illusion, an illusion that the Buddhists have known for thousands of years. Why haven’t we known this and all that it entails from a spiritual practice point of view? There are many reasons for this but one is that western spiritual thinking and philosophy has been dominated by perhaps too much theology and intellectualism and not enough simple spiritual practice. There have been many in the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches who have followed spiritual paths that have lead them to experiences similar to Eastern religious experience but these practises and ideas have never been emphasized, or often misunderstood by the church. By spiritual practice I mean not just practicing the love and compassion of Christ but also entering into the practice of meditation. It is in this practice that the realization that you are not just your thinking begins to take place.

World wide in developed countries the Christian church is in decline but the spiritual hunger for answers continues. Where do we look for answers? We look to ourselves.
We wake up, we get real, we refuse to be spoon feed and we grow up – sisters and brothers start doing it for themselves.

There was a time in simpler days where if you wanted a letter written you went to the local scribe, a potion or medicine – to the doctor or shaman, spiritual guidance, you went to a priest, a house built, you went to the carpenter etc etc etc. These important people had power and influence because of their knowledge and skill. Today we write our own letters and emails, we can check out the side effects and efficacy of drugs on the internet, many can build a house and the spiritual books that we can read abound. The modern world is an astounding place compared to what is was a couple of hundred years ago – In many ways we don’t ask for the experts to reveal things to us, we often stand alongside them as equals and discuss things with them. I think we are in an era of the power and RESPONSIBITY of the individual. Spiritual understanding and enlightenment is something you seek out and obtain for yourself, it is not something that is ‘revealed’ by someone else. It is the practice of Love, Compassion, Mindfulness and Meditation. How do you do this? – Go Goggle it!! This I believe is the epoch that we are now entering.


Kia Kaha

Anonymous said...

... but that is just the point. Most people cant do it for themselves -
Isn't love all about relationship... with god and with mankind?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "most people can't do it for themselves" surely most people can love, cultivate compassion, practice the act of mindfulness which is being fully present to people and the environment moment by moment and practise simple meditation? One might have to read some books and ask others for some guidance, but surely we can all do these things for ourselves.

Yes I agree that one aspect of love is relationship with mankind, not forgetting that we should love and accept ourselves as well. The term 'god' though is a bit more problematic because this concept is very difficult to define. Just what exactly do you mean when you use the word 'god'

Kind Regards and Kia Kaha

Anonymous said...

What an enormous personal question.It has taken me days... and I'm sure I don't know ... but I'll tell you what i think...
He is the intelligence that created the observer of my dreams.
He is both beyond me and within me.
He 'IS' before existence and time-
Creator- infinite wisdom and love.
My huge question is about His relationship with me.His gifts of presence with me have been sometimes overwhelming and inexplicable- I'm often left with more questions than answers

Anonymous said...

Yes it is a huge personal question, perhaps a little unfair to ask but I am glad that I did because I am truely moved by and feel privileged to read your answer.Thankyou for answering.I agree that the big problem is how do you relate to this "ground of our being" which is beyond language. One practical way seems to be through meditation where this ground can be experienced. Another way doesn't involve meditation but involves the daily expression of unconditional love and compassion through the practise of mindfulness. These practises are well developed in Buddhism but in my opinion don't seem to be incompatable with Christian thought and historic practise.

Kia Kaha

Anonymous said...

I really like your sentence "He is the intelligence that created the observer of my dreams." you don't have copyright on that do you?!

Kia Kaha

Anonymous said...

It was a ' three o'clock thought'-
there shouldn't ever be copyright on any glimpse of the truth we can share with each other.
I think both of the practices you mention are compatible with what Christ would encourage.
Stay strong and gentle.