Friday, August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Loose Lips Sink Ships

There is a lot of loose speaking in our worship that doesn't help maintain a proper Trintarian emphasis. For example, there is a lot of what the old theologians used to call "confounding of the Persons." "Dear Father, we thank you Lord, that you died on the cross for us..." Now, of course, the Father did not die on the cross, but the Son. Sometimes you will hear a prayer like the following: "We thank you Father Lord that Lord Jesus you came Father God and helped us Lord to see, Jesus, that we are never alone Father..." and so on. As well as confounding the persons, this prayer borders on blasphemy because in using words like "Father" and "Lord" as a substitute for "um or "ah," as the person collects his or her thoughts, the speaker uses the Lord's name "in vain" (i.e. in an "empty" or mindless way). My advice here would be to slow down, speak more slowly, engage one's brain before one's mouth, and think about what is being said instead of prattling on a like a nervous nanny.

With only two exceptions, prayer in the New Testament is always offered TO the Father, IN THE NAME of Jesus, and THROUGH the Holy Spirit. (The exceptions are when Stephen is being stoned to death and he looks up to heaven, sees Jesus and prays, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit" and the prayer at the end of Revelation, "Even so, come Lord Jesus.") I am not aware of any prayer in the New Testament made directly to the Holy Spirit. This does NOT mean that prayer directly to Jesus or the Spirit is wrong, but that the general biblical pattern seems to be a Trinitarian one in which the Father is addressed on the basis of what Christ has done and with the
authority that lies behind his name, and (since we don't know how to pray as we ought) the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding within us, empowering and enabling our speech.

Of course God looks at the heart and I don't mean to say here that when Christians pray in a theologically loose way or in a way not quite "proper" or not fully Trinitarian that those prayers go unheeded or that God says, "Go directly to hell; do not pass Go; do not collect $200." (Monopoly players know what I'm talking about.) God is patient with us, of course, but congregational leaders have the responsibility of modelling best practice.

Sadly, many Christians are functional unitarians (there is one God and his name is "Jesus") or "binitarians" ("God and Jesus" with no Holy Spirit to be seen). Some people say Pentecostals focus too much on the Spirit in their worship but the way I see it the tendency among both Pentecostals and Evangelicals is the same, and that is, to be one of the two options I've just given.

The Gloria Patri doesn't get used among us much anymore and in a way that's a pity because it enshrined a Trinitarian doxology in every service. "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever. Amen." Even without the use of the Gloria Patri we can still ensure a Trinitarian shape to our prayers - don't confound the Persons, never use "Father," "Jesus" or any other of God's names as a "filler," and frequently close with "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Trinitarian blessings (benedictions) also help as do Trintarian hymns and songs. However, Reginald Heber's "Holy,Holy, Holy" (as great as it is) is not the only Trinitarian hymn out there! I love the final verse of "Now thank We All Our God" - "All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; The Son and Holy Ghost, supreme in highest Heaven; The one eternal God,whom earth and Heaven adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore." This can be separated from the rest of the hymn as a stand alone Trinitarian doxology that could be sung, for example, as a response to the Psalm or other Bible reading. Don't be fooled into thinking that just because a song has "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the lyrics that it is Trinitarian because it ain't necessarily so. Some songs are quite theologically incoherent (that is, they don't "co-here"). For example, consider the chorus "How Great is Our God" which says "Father, Spirit, Son / the Godhead Three in One / the Lion and the Lamb." This seems all wrong to me. Firstly, the only reason to change the order of "Father, Son, and Spirit" is to make the rhyme work - "Son" has to rhyme with "One." The placement of these words is not just traditional but deeply theological in its ordering. The Father begets the Son, the Spirit proceeds from the Father (or from the Father and the Son if you accept the Nicene formula). Also the address to the Triune God (Father, Spirit, Son / the Godhead Three in One) suddenly shifts without warning and without reason to an address to the Son (the Lion and the Lamb) as if the same persons were still being addressed, which they are not because only the Son is "the Lion and the Lamb." Call me a liturgial fundamentalist if you like but I think the way we address God in worship is an important matter that deserves serious reflection.

By the way, you may wonder why I have chosen the images I have used here. I believe they reflect one of the most disturbing things about contemporary worship trends. Though two of the images here show very large groups of worshippers, each person seems wrapped in his or her own personal bubble of worship intimacy. The three young women in the third photo each have their eyes closed, communing with Jesus, their "personal" Saviour, each with her own microphone. In none of these photos is any one person present to any other person. They do not face each other, they do not engage. They are transcended beyond others to a private space shared only between God and themselves. If God is a Being whose very existence is a reciprocal, relational one, you would think our worship would reflect that reciprocity by being more communal than personal and ecstatic. You would think.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Siege of Krishnapur

My friend Paddy tells me that if a book doesn't get him interested within the first 50 pages or so he lays it aside and moves on to something else. Now Paddy is the most voracious reader I know so he has to do something to limit his intake. But if I had applied his recommended practice to a book he actually loaned me recently, namely J. G. Farrell's Booker Prize-winning The Siege of Krishnapur (1973), I would have missed out on something very special. Frankly the first part of the book just didn't capture me - the courting intrigues of a bunch of British gentlemen and prissy English ladies prancing around courting in British India in the 1840s wasn't exactly my cup of tea. The tension builds however as the inevitable uprising of the Sepoys and the consequent siege approaches and you begin to see that Farrell has gone into painstaking detail developing these self assured characters because he plans to pull the rug out from underneath them as their civilization comes crashing down around them and they are reduced to the most primitive of survival instincts. The humour in the midst of the horror serves to unmask the pretensions of the British class system and all its racist assumptions as they are played out in the colonial setting.

The novel has been meticulously researched to gain historical detail and accuracy, including consulting the diaries of the actual participants. Depending on Owen Chadwick's magisterial two volume work The Victorian Church cannot be faulted. Yet for all this Farrell's "padre" does seem to be a mere caricature. I'm sure there were such pathologically obsessed clergymen in the Victorian era but I doubt if they could be said to be typical. Since he serves as a metaphor for a bankrupt Christianity in the novel I assume he embodies everything about the faith that the author dismisses as puerile and ridiculous.

There is also a deep sadness and cynicism at the heart of the book, given shape and form in the person of The Collector. He begins the novel as a man with an overwhelming sense of the fitness of all things, and an (admittedly displaced) confidence in the rightness of the "civilising" project in India. He serves as the moral centre of the book as, after surviving an attack of cholera, throughout the darkest days of the siege he is a pillar of strength to the survivors and the only person whose head remains well and truly screwed on. Yet the horrors of the siege leave him something of a nihilist. Neither science nor technology nor religion nor British culture nor anything else could overcome the invincible stupidity of humanity. In the situation of violent death, desperate privation, and gradual starvation all that seemed previously to give the world meaning is stripped back to the most base of survival instincts. Human beings prove after all to be no more than a fortuitous course of atoms thrown out on a dung heap of rotting corpses for pariah dogs to scavenge. Since the Collector's portrait is the most sympathetic given in the book, one wonders whether the character doesn't embody the author's own viewpoint.

In some ways the book is typical of novels of the 1970s with its post-colonial empire bashing. It is hilariously funny and horrifically ghastly at one and the same time. Thanks Paddy for a great recommendation. The obsessive compulsive behaviour that drives me to finish every book I start even if it seems a chore stood me in good stead on this occasion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dylan in Melbourne

I enjoyed my seventh Dylan concert on Sunday night. Tragic, I know. Dylan is known to play the occasional bad show but I can honestly say I've never been disappointed and Sunday was no exception. The Frames were a good support act, and obviously chuffed to be invited to tour with his Bobness. I can only describe them as a kind of Irish Wilco (who by the way I saw with the Boy Wonder at the Palais earlier this year but never got around to reviewing. Suffice to say it was a brilliant show). I thought it was very cool they way the Frames wove a Van Morrison lyric into one of their original songs. They played only four or five songs. We were here, after all, to hear Bob and no support act is ever asked to give an encore.

Bob took the stage in his usual black with a broad brimmed cowboy hat which he never took off looking for all the world like a gunfighter from a B grade western totin' a guitar instead of a gun. The band kicked into a ragged version of "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," a little out of tune and pretty loosey goosey. They seemed to take a few numbers to really tighten up, and were at their best on the new songs from Modern Times. When they were good they were very, very good, with moments of real rock 'n roll brilliance. Dylan played three numbers on guitar and then stood at the keyboard / Hammond organ thingy for "Just Like A Woman" and stayed there for the duration. This annoyed me at the Melbourne International Music Festival a few years back but this time it seemed right. After all, Bob started on piano in his high school band playing Bobby Vee and Buddy Holly covers, and plays piano on piano based songs sprinkled here and there over the whole body of his work. Anyway, even behind the keyboard he still has the rock 'n roll gunslinger moves.

I can undertand why some people, just don't "get" Dylan and leave one of his concerts scratching their heads or even feeling ripped off. If they don't know his body of work well, they are certainly not going to understand the words he growls, spits out, grunts, and distorts with his strange vocal gymnastics, even when his voice is WAY up at the top of the sound mix as it was last night. And then he has that strange way of leaving it to the very last part of the measure before throwing in all the lyrics all at once without a moment to spare. A teenager behind me during the demand for an encore called, out "Play a Bob Dylan song!" Apparently he hadn't recognised any of the songs in the set, even though it contained such Dylan standards as "Just Like a Woman," "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," and "Highway 61 Revisited." (For those who want the complete set list click here.) In a way this is a real tragedy because it means that people miss out on moments of genuine lyrical brilliance. In "Spirit on the Water," the frailty and elusiveness of love is expressed so well in the lines, "I'm pale as a ghost holding a blossom on a stem. You ever seen a ghost? No. But you have heard of them." Whether he's frowning on those who are "sucking the blood out of the genius of generosity" or bragging about himself having "sucked the milk out of a thousand cows," this is poetry not be missed.

I guess it is this familiarity with Dylan's work that gives fans at his concerts (no doubt the vast majority in attendance alongside of those in the minority who may simply be there to "check out the legend") a certain satisfaction in their esoteric knowledge. In "Spirit on the Water" when Bob sang, "Ya think I'm over the hill," the crowd yelled back, "Nooooo!". Then, "think I'm past my prime," and again, "Nooooo!" Finally, "Let me see what you got / we can have a whoppin' good time." Crowd: "Yeeaaahhh!!" Priceless. They knew those words were coming and they were ready for them.

The highlight for me was "I Believe in You" from his Gospel album Slow Train Coming, the last song at the end of the set before the encore, and sung with so much passion. It's the song of a loner who stands apart, or is ejected, from the crowd because of his personal faith in Jesus. He ended the song in an interesting way, repeating the opening lines of the verse, "they ask me how I feel and if my love is real"...and then it just ended abruptly, the final word being spat out with what sounded like venom and disgust. "How dare they ask if my love for God is 'real'!" I'm probably reading too much into it but I couldn't help but think of the Christians who need Dylan's faith to fit into a conventional mould they can approve.

Then there was a long, long wait before the two-song encore. At the end, a touching moment when the lights came back up and the band were all huddled in the centre free of their instruments, Bob at the front, as they received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. Bob reciprocated with a single hand uprised in salute, then both arms upraised as he basked in the glow of adoration for a second or two then they turned and walked off, Bob 66 yrs. old, frail, skinny, and somehow vulnerable but a giant and a legend still.

Dylan fashion watch: Bob wore this hat at the Melbourne concert but with a black coat.

Here's a live TV performance of "Cry Awhile" from about 5 years back. This song wasn't performed at the concert but it still gives a bit of a taste of what Bob is like live.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Teenage Affluenza

Ellen and Jasmine will be doing the 40 Hour Famine in a couple of weeks. Please watch this video and consider sponsoring them or another person you know who is participating, or even doing it yourself.

Monday, August 06, 2007

And The Winner Is...

Well, the results are in and the winner of The Great Batman Cover Artist Competition and worthy reciepent of Action Comics Annual #10 is...
anniemareerose with the following scintillating entry that hovers on the brink of decision several times and then finally arrives at Detective Comics #355 (Sept 1966) by Carmine Infantino and Mike Giella. Those stingy tightwads at Marvel send out No Prizes but we send the real thing and it's winging it's way to our winner as I speak. Here is Annie's winning entry. To see the cover images she discusses click here.

"I must agree with Ross, both the Wagner covers do great representations of batman, the monster men (06) cover, batman atop the building/roof etc, wing like cape cropped so the ends are just cut out, perfect, particularly the way it folds over...

The 2nd wagner in the post, the colors are brilliant, they meld perfectly, the gold in the buildings and the belt, just a few colors, but striking nonetheless, excellent use of color. its tough to choose between this and the other standout red and black cover done by Kubert, however his portrayal is too sinister for my liking, I prefer him composed, with the air of being able to snap into those 'sinister' moments but this wagner has him staunch, so stoic - great, great framing...

however, a strange one, initially dismissed, however, over the last few days, it has lingered in my mind, this time i differ with ross, lets look at the 1966 cover (#355 [pictured left] Now the graphics aren't particularly detailed, as in, demanding attention, they are a bit 'thin' even, yet, theres something special about the manner in which batman dangles there, hes almost 'faking', as if at the crucial moment he will surprise us all and give the hooded hangman all his worth, there's life in his eyes, i like it. I think thats my no.1 tough with the wagner 2 and the 07 cover, but something, just wins me over.

annie's top 4.

#1 (355)
#2 (627)
#3 (665)
#4 (825)"

So there it is , the much maligned (by the readers of this blog anyway) Silver Age work of Infantino and Giella is deemed the best depiction of the Caped Crusader on display here. Old school wins the day.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Difference Between Melbourne and Sydney

For those people who read my last post and wondered if there really were that many differences between Melbourne and Sydney you need to look at the "most viewed articles" comparison between the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (with thanks to James Garth from whose blog I stole the image):

By the way I'm a Sydney person born and bred myself, but happy to be a Melbourne person by dint of my vocation.

A Swearing Apostle and a Swearing Priest

In Mark 14:66-72 a precocious servant girl gives an apostle some lip and he doesn’t respond very well at all. In fact, Peter denies any association at all with Jesus. Poor old Peter is standing by the fire trying to warm himself and all of a sudden he’s being attacked on all sides by complete strangers, the whole thing being egged on by a snotty little servant girl who should have known and kept her place. Didn’t she know that children were to be seen and not heard? She’s a slave for goodness sake, and a girl as well! Who does she think she is anyway? She calls him, “one of them,” and says he was “with the Nazarene.” People standing around picked up the idea and joined in the fun, throwing a kind of racial slur in as well. “You are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Ever been called “one of them”? Galileans were considered hicks, out of town yokels. Over in the U.S., if you live in the state of Virginia the people in West Virginia are hillbillies, but if you live in West Virginia it’s the other way around. We tend to think of Tasmanians as a bit backward but since I went there last week I’ve had to change my estimate of them. They’re really quit nice. In fact an antique dealer asked me if I was from the “north island” meaning the mainland. Perhaps in his mind it was we mainlanders who were a little backward. Don’t get me started on the differences between Queenslanders and Victorians or Sydney people and Melbourne people. Dame Edna recounts how when as a child she sucked the milk shake through the bottom of the straw it made a gurgling sound and her mother said, “Don’t do that dear. Sydney people do that.”

Here Peter has his association with Jesus thrown in his face and three times he denies the connection. First he says, “I don't know or understand what you're talking about.” The second time we don’t know his exact words only that when the girl said, “this fellow is one of them” he denied it. His third denial was very explicit, “I don't know this man you're talking about.”

And then comes verse 72, which must be one of the most dramatic moments in all of biblical history, perhaps in all history. When the rooster crowed the words of Jesus suddenly came back to Peter. “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Peter began to "call down curses” and “swore to them” that he didn’t know Jesus. I couldn’t help thinking of Father Geoff Baron, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral who was stood down from his position this week after swearing at skateboarders and issuing racial slurs at them as they were hoolaginising around the cathedral precincts.

Here is an excerpt from the coverage in The Age yesterday:

Dean Baron said he had “snapped” and regretted it. “The shame that I feel and the embarrassment, I can't really describe,” he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. “It was outrageous behaviour, I let myself down terribly badly, that's quite clear and I've also brought scandal and shock to other people.” He said he had been provoked when the teenagers, who were skating on the cathedral steps, called him a paedophile. “I can't excuse it, I wouldn't even try to; I don't know why I said those things. “It might be linked up in some way that so many priests are considered to be paedophiles and here I was being called one.” However, Dean Baron said he would not apologise to the teenagers he abused. “I have the impression that that particular gang of skateboarders, they take a particular delight and joy in reducing people to grovelling measures as I was, that's their goal, that's their aim. “So I don't think I owe them an apology as such, I apologise to all who were scandalised by my behaviour.”
[Reko Rennie, “Swearing Priest Suspended,” The Age (July 31st 2007), 3.14pm.]

There is more than a little of Peter’s betrayal in the Dean’s actions, but also more than a little of Peter’s sorrow and repentance. If this were the end of the story it would truly be tragedy on the level of Judas’ betrayal. Who knows what pits of despair Peter would have spiralled into? But, as we know, this wasn’t the end of the story. After he rose from the dead, Jesus met Peter on the beach for breakfast and gave him three opportunities to affirm his love for him. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Three times this exchange took place and in this trinity of absolutions the whole sorry mess was washed away.

This is how it is. The tragedy of our denial of God through our sin is met by the generosity of God’s affirmation of us, through the generosity of God’s forgiveness. That is true for Peter, for Father Baron, for the skateboarders who mocked him and called him a paedophile, for those who laughed at the “silly old priest” on You Tube, and for you, and for me.


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