Thursday 30 September 2010

Stress and the funambulist clergyperson

Clergypersons in mainline denominations suffer a high rate of stress according to this report at WalesOnline. Anxiety, depression and burnout are occupational hazards.

It rings true. My theory is that there are two basic types of clergy; the fundamentalists and the funambulists.

Fundamentalists are, perhaps with the exception of those who publicly screw up big time - Eddie Long and his ilk - basically unfazed by stress. They know what they believe, no matter how completely daft, and have a misplaced sense of their own correctness in the face of any disconfirmation. Faced with reality they stick their chins out and bluff it. Many evangelicals, I suspect, fall on this side of the great divide too.

Then there are the funambulists, a word that means tightrope walkers. They're aware of the tensions that go with the job, and are honest enough to feel the strain. These folk are often earnest to a fault, underpaid and overworked. Unlike their fundamentalist and megachurch counterparts, they don't have the total lack of conscience required to perform as third rate motivational speakers using proof texts each Sunday. How do you find the point of balance, for example, when you're trying to meet the expectations of a diverse congregation that includes literalists, progressives, idealists and "just folks"? How do you define yourself against the multiple roles that people expect you to perform to an ideal standard: counselling, preaching, organizing, peacekeeping... How do you stay tuned in when a large part of your clientele only turn up regularly because they haven't enough imagination not to?

Far simpler to flush away the hard stuff and "do a Hillsong;" grip your leather-bound bible and gush confident nonsense interspersed with praise music. No brain, no pain.

Let's be glad so many persevere on the tightrope anyway. No question about it, give me the teetering funambulist any day. Some of them are clearly saints.

Monday 27 September 2010

Don Cupitt

I've been reading Don Cupitt's Life, Life, and frankly I don't know what to make of either it or him. Cupitt is very much a cutting-edge theologian-philosopher, but unlike most others with that kind of claim, he's quite readable. Moreover he has the cheek to say things directly that others would equivocate on.
Atheism is perfectly correct in that indeed there is not an actual being out there to be named or referred to as God. (111)
You see what I mean... How about this:
In the past, people often thought of morality as bringing a particular individual life under general rules. Morality didn't at all help you to become your own unique self. Its concern was always to subordinate the particular to the universal. Rule-based morality is therefore dead, because it does not help one to become an individual. ... I am under a sacred obligation to find and follow the personal lifestyle through which, as I live it out, I can become a unique, individual, fully-expressed self. It is in that way, and not by confining myself to some set of rules, that I can make my best contribution to the human scene as a whole. (45-46)
With which I at least partly agree. In fact, there's no doubt that this Anglican priest who doesn't believe in God has some valuable and incredibly perceptive things to say. The quotes don't begin to do justice to his overall argument about life, language and existence. Here's one that gets close.
Simply out of chatter we generated language, established values, built up our huge and elaborate knowledge systems and - strangest of all - we even generated our own consciousness, our own subjective life.
The bubble is unmoored, outsideless: as seen from inside it, there is no way out. (91)
But there are nagging doubts. Cupitt is an old codger, and speaks with the plummy voice of an Oxford don - which is appropriate given that's what he is. But to be honest, being myself an only partly reformed Pietist at heart, the exaltation of rampant sexuality as an expression of "the new model" grates.
I like the new-model idea of the unity of religion and the sex drive: that is, I like the way libido flowing through us gives colour to the world, makes it dazzlingly beautiful, and turns into religious joy. That's redemption, new style. (129)
Free-range bonking in the guise of Lebensgefühl seems in Cupitt's universe to be an indicator on the path ahead. Yeah, sure, we should all be comfortable with our own bodies, but Cupitt goes a tad beyond that.

But with reservations, it's an interesting if somewhat cerebral read. One final brief quote:
'Life', whatever it is, is bigger even than religion. (48)

Friday 24 September 2010

Anglicans are Weird (2)

St Matthew in the City is a truly beautiful Anglican church in the heart of Auckland. I've attended a couple of events there with visiting speakers. It has a reputation - and a well deserved one - as a bastion of progressive Christianity. There are few such oases left as mainstream churches lurch into senility.

Tonight St Matthew in the City featured on nationwide television as a backdrop to TV3's New Zealand's Top Model. The seven remaining gals paraded from the sanctuary down an improvised catwalk in their frilly knickers. I can only say that it didn't happen when Bishop Spong was in town.

Funnily enough, several of the models were hesitant to "do it" in an allegedly sacred space. You have to say it was incongruous at the very least to see attractive young women hawking lingerie and strutting their stuff against a background of crucifix and stained glass. You also have to wonder what the church apparatchiks were thinking when they hired out the facility to the gods of fashion and narcissism.

OK, it made interesting television, and yes, it certainly wasn't hard to watch. It's not a matter of prudishness, but appropriateness. It wasn't appropriate if your concept of 'church' includes worship, dedication to a higher cause and a sense of having a space set-apart for that purpose. Commercial bimbo culture is surely the antithesis of that. Could you imagine this happening in a Catholic church, or down the road at the Baptist Tabernacle? Don't think so.

No surprise then that the next advertised event is "the blessing of the animals" on October 3. Spoilt pooches piddling on the carpet?

More proof Anglicans - including liberal Anglicans - are totally weird.

Jerking Around With Eddie and Brian

Oh dear, oh dear...

A connection between "bishop" Eddie Long and "bishop" Brian Tamaki has come to light. Brian, founder of New Zealand's Destiny Church, bought his bishop franchise from Long Eddie.

Yes, that Eddie. The guy with saucy allegations of toy-boys swirling around him.

According to today's New Zealand Herald, Eddie even brought the young men out to New Zealand with him as part of his retinue.

To recap, for those coming in late. Brian Tamaki was once just a humble pastor-dude with a talent for "bringing in the sheaves." Then he met his "spiritual father," Long Eddie. And lo, Long Eddie was a "bishop." And Brian saith unto himself, "me too!"

Anyway, Brian invited Eddie to Aotearoa. Now someone correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "invited" code word in these circles for "paid a lot of money"? And again, lo and presto, Brian was elevated to a pseudo-episcopal throne. The lucky members of Destiny Church got to buy tickets so they could attend the ordination!

Not that I have the ear of his exaltedness "the bishop," but if I did I'd want to ask Brian if and how much he shelled out for the title. If so, I'd also want to know what Brian thought about the applicability of that famous Simon Magus text (Acts 8:18-19).

Then there's the question of Brian's "discernment" in choosing a spiritual daddy who preaches garbage like this. Let's be frank, you'd have to be a moron in a hurry not to notice that this guy is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Warning alarms were surely going off - for anyone with ears to hear - long before the allegations broke this week of sexual assault.

Now what will Brian do? Bust himself back to pastor rank? Pigs will fly!

Listen to Brian - or his sperm-obsessed "spiritual father" - and the problem becomes immediately apparent. Any preachers are loose canons when they're under no discipline other than their own inflamed egos. Surround yourself with sycophants and you'll hear exactly what you want to hear.

Ted Haggard, Garner Ted Armstrong... the list is endless. Regardless of Eddie Long's yet-to-be-proven guilt or innocence, preachers with "groupies" almost always end up with a sense of entitlement. Once you find it acceptable to screw with people's minds, it becomes easier to want to screw with their bodies.

One can only hope, for Brian's sake, that canny Hannah has her man on a very short leash.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Cheap Atonement

Sitting on my bookshelf is Susannah Heschel's provocative and disturbing book The Aryan Jesus (Princeton, 2008), in part the story of how the German churches, both Protestant and Catholic - and their theologians - actively courted and collaborated with the Nazi regime like fawning lapdogs. And yes, propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, that applies in part to the "Confessing Church" as well.

The cover picture in itself is incredibly powerful, showing the altar of a church in Cologne, 1935, draped with the swastika. Heschel tells a grim tale of self-delusion and fantasy dressed up in agenda-driven scholarship, a horrendous indictment on the Christian churches.

When Heschel then comments on the just passed papal visit to Britain, I for one am willing to sit bolt upright and pay close attention.

Here it is.

Saturday 18 September 2010

What stroppy protest looks like in my home town

The burning issue of the moment is trains, and this is what "hot under the collar" looks like in this neck of the woods. Yep, boring as paint drying I guess, but definitely civilized.

The Old Magnolia Tree

The old magnolia tree blew down last night as gale force winds struck my little town. It has been there from well before the house was built, an imposing presence on an unassuming section. This morning it lies prostrate, broken off at the roots, and just missing the corner of the house. How are the mighty fallen.

I slept through it. An early night in the hope of catching up on badly needed sleep meant I missed the power cut too. My neighbours weren't as relaxed at the time, they felt their house shake and rattle as they groped for the candles, and in the light of day it's clear their beautifully tended front garden will require a lot of work to bring it back to where it was. Another neighbour who dropped by to have a look at the tree observed sagely that the old magnolia was top heavy. He's probably right.

It's a metaphor for life I suppose. By this time next week it'll be gone, history. Who'd have thought it. A lesson in the impermanence of all things, but especially those things we just take for granted.

Now if I was a preacher-type, there'd be the makings of a sermon there. I think we should all be grateful that I'm not...

Friday 17 September 2010

Herbal Stew

Two items of interest to those readers who can identify the following alphabet soup acronyms correctly.


First, there's a promising new blog by someone with a longtime ability - well beyond my own - to deal to the acronym-rich community in question. For the moment the blogger is remaining anonymous, but I am in a position to say at least that this individual not only has a history with most of those acronyms going back much longer than mine, but has been much, much closer to the beating pulse than most of us. Basically this is a book review site, bringing together personal assessments of a potentially huge range of publications - many (most!) long out of print - that have dealt with the movement. Given the subject, most of the material reviewed is "unapologetically apologetic" in nature, and frankly some of the writers were bigger jerks than the people they were lambasting, but... whatever... its still great to see them together in one place. Of the texts currently featured, I confess to once owning five - all since long lost.

Second, the latest issue of that august journal, The Journal, is out. It's a typical dog's breakfast (not sure if that term makes sense in the US, but Antipodeans will know what I mean) of the good, the bad and the bizarre. Dennis Diehl responds to a particularly silly article in the previous issue, the moronic book by wingnut Joe Kovaks gets low quality publicity, genius writers Steve Collins and Alan Knight blather on whatever latest thought takes their fancy, there's another dubious faux miracle story on page one, and I'm not sure I even begin to understand what the heck Bill Glover is trying to do, but if you're out there Bill, I prescribe a nice cup of tea and a lie down.

And that's without mentioning the ever-wacky Connections ad section. But please don't take this as a put-down of The Journal. I love it! I subscribe to it! It's, well, unique. Hours of hilarity salted with a very occasional nugget of precious sanity. Publisher Dixon Cartwright is definitely one of the good guys. What's more, you can download the front and back pages for free.

*Ambassador College, Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Ambassador International Cultural Foundation.

Thursday 16 September 2010

A pint of the Lord's best!

Jim West draws attention to a brilliant article on the BAR website: Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?

The answer, of course is yes. Next question: is beer mentioned in the good book. Yes, many times. Even the Eternal - a.k.a. Yahweh - is portrayed as enjoying the equivalent of a pint or more.

Next question: how come the nice English translations we use don't convey this?

That's one of the questions tackled by Michael Homan, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans in this highly approachable article.

The case Homan makes is pretty convincing. Does this enable a new metaphor for prayer I wonder; sitting down with the Ground of All Being over a frosty glass for a relaxed chat?

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Anglicans are Weird

Forget Jehovah's Witnesses and Moonies; Anglicans are inexplicably stranger by far.

Exhibit 1: the latest issue of Anglican Taonga, an official publication of that church in New Zealand.

Here's a slice of the Anglican communion that recently played host to Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church in the USA, and you'd be forgiven for not knowing that the woman was in the country. Anglican leaders by and large seem to have behaved like frightened rabbits, pulling their mitres firmly down over their eyes and hoping nobody would notice. Incredible!

Then there's a hui (big talk-fest) on gay issues and biblical hermeneutics. Peter Carrell, a considered voice on the conservative/evangelical side, comments:

"[W]e are becoming more conservative. The liberal pressure for change in our church is losing support among both clergy and laity. This is partly because new clergy are being drawn from conservative parishes, but also because overtly liberal parishes are not growing across our church. ... (By 'conservative' I mean 'content to hold things the way they have been,' whereas 'evangelical' refers to a specific set of theological convictions which often concur with a conservative disposition. There are more conservatives than evangelicals in our church.)"

"And Jesus wept."

There's a nice article about the involvement of an Anglican parish in the "wrong side of the tracks" North Island town of Eltham. Everyone seems very pleased with themselves, but you have to ask where the church was before the situation reached blow-up point, specifically with the less-than glowing back-history that applies to the church in that part of the country.

This is a church that talks about revitalising - using glib terms like FX (which is supposed to mean 'fresh expressions') but which is greying and dwindling, afraid of its own shadow when an American leader tours the country, but also capable of that variety of earnest pomposity that sees its bishops continue to tart up in regalia like trollops at a picnic.

Then there are the issues bubbling away at St. John's Theological College. St. John's has a long history - at least in New Zealand terms - and a strong reputation for theological education. But factionalism of a most unChristian stripe appears to have virtually torn the college apart, necessitating the installation of a commissioner to bang heads together.

Perhaps it was ever so. My current reading material is Stevan Eldred-Grigg's ground-breaking history of New Zealand society in World War I, The Great Wrong War. I'll offer a review in due course, but for the moment I can only say it is uprooting all my lazy assumptions about life in this country just under a hundred years ago, and that the churches - and perhaps specifically the Anglican church - appear in less than flattering (dare one say Christian?) terms.

Finally a personal note: the last few weeks have been "the month from hell" with Winter maladies, and blogging has been very close to the bottom of the "must do" list. Hopefully the trajectory is now upward, and postings will be a bit more regular.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Paradise Recovered - Update

Paradise Recovered is finally scheduled to hit the screen, and will premier in LA at the Downtown Independent Theater on November 29. I daresay it'll be a little while before PR arrives Down Under, so I hope a DVD release will be in the offing as well. PR is a story close to the hearts of many folk who read this blog, and its precursor Ambassador Watch. More screenings are expected to be announced at the end of this month.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Christchurch quake

The age of the Internet meant that many people overseas knew about the quake that hit the Canterbury region of the South Island well before New Zealanders woke up in other parts of the country. The 7.1 quake hit in the early hours of the morning, and the damage has been dramatic, though miraculously there appear to have been no casualties.