Category Archives: Liturgy

Natural Disasters: Lament, community and the death of theodicy

Last week, I came across an article by Rev Dr Andrew Dutney, President-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, with the provocative title: Does God hate Queensland? This was before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disasters of Japan.

We had a bad summer with floods and cyclones; the photo at the top of the page was taken across the road from our house to show how high the water came during the flood. Japan is faring far worse than us.

How do Christians respond?

Theologians have classically gone for theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil and disaster. Why does God let these things happen?

There are two broad kinds of theodicy: one which says with Augustine that the creation fell from perfection with Adam; the others says with Irenaeus that the world began in an immature state, and that suffering is necessary for us to mature.

Dutney points out that

theodicy works for some but not all cases. There are far too many examples of suffering which are so grotesque or so excessive that they make it impossible to devise an explanation that is both rational and morally tolerable. In any case, it would be offensive even to try to explain such suffering away.

He also makes the very important point that ordinary Christians haven’t gone all the way with the theologians in trying to justify God’s ways. Rather for them,

the experience of suffering does not challenge belief in God as such, but rather forces the question, Where in this suffering is the God in whom I believe?

Theodicy has a limited place. The scriptures allow far more lament than we have allowed for ourselves in our services until recently. Thumb through the Psalms for example upon example, or read Lamentations; Uniting in Worship 2 has put lament into the ‘mainstream’ of the Church’s worship. For Dutney it is simply that:

There is suffering which will not be explained into quietness by church leaders, philosophers or theologians.

In the floods in Brisbane, people were bowled over by the number of people who came to help. And community is another discovery in disaster:

It turns out that our possessions are less important than our family, friends and neighbours. It turns out that we can trust strangers to enter our (shattered) homes and deal gently with our treasures – in fact we rely on them to do so. It turns out that my neighbours need does matter more to me than my own in this situation. It turns out that sitting in the rubble of the lives that we’d worked so hard to create we can laugh and experience genuine joy in the inexplicable gift of being alive – together. It turns out that when we look up and see what natural disaster means in Haiti and Pakistan we do recognize in a new way the responsibilities – the opportunities to help – that go with the advantages enjoyed by Australians and New Zealanders even in times of devastation. Who knew?

None of this justifies or minimises human suffering. But we survive—and we survive together.

Read Andrew’s article for yourself.

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Filed under Church & world, Liturgy, Lord have mercy, reflection, Uniting Church in Australia

Another Ash Wednesday liturgical introduction

Now, the attention turns to Lent…

I’ve found another Ash Wednesday liturgy here; I’m just using the liturgical introduction (i.e., Opening Meditation and Introduction), with some adaptation—we don’t use purple candles for Lent, we just hide the candles we use at other times; and I’ve added a sharper (more orthodox) christological focus.

But it’s good stuff, and well worth a look!

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18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 1 August 2010

Baptism: A matter of death and life

Colossians 3.1-11
Luke 12.13-21

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

LP Hartley started his 1953 book, The Go-Between, with this wonderful sentence. It’s just about become a proverbial saying, and it would be hard to find a better way to begin a book. Or a sermon, for that matter. So why not? Let’s do it:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

But first, let’s think about how we do something now. That something is baptism. Most times, we baptise babies or small children. It’s easy to get caught up in how cute they are. It’s possible to think of baptism as the way cute babies become part of the church family.

But when we read the bible, we see that baptism is spoken of very differently. It’s a matter of life and death. More accurately, it’s a matter of death and life. It’s about the person to be baptised dying with Christ and rising again with him. Sometimes, we forget that.

I think we’d be doing baptism better, and being reminded of what it means, if the font were shaped like a cross. And we laid the baby down in it. It would be challenging in the extreme, but it would show what baptism is really about.

Let’s now switch to the past. Don’t forget:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

I want you to imagine that you live in Rome in the fourth century AD. You wear Roman clothes; you eat anchovies and olives and rancid feta cheese, and quaff poor-quality red wine diluted with unsafe drinking water. It is a foreign country, and they really do things differently there. Including baptism.

You were brought up a pagan, but you’ve been converted to Jesus Christ. For three whole years you have been instructed in the Christian faith. In that time, you have never been to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. You haven’t been told what happens there; you have been dismissed after the ‘prayers of the people’ to continue being taught and formed in the Christian faith.

But now, Easter is approaching; and at the Easter Vigil, at last you’re going to become part of the Christian Church in baptism.

You haven’t been told what will happen then either. Back in your day, way back in the fourth century, the life of the Church was kept secret from all except those who had been fully initiated. They do things differently there, remember? Continue reading

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A Litany for use during an election campaign

A member of my congregation has made me aware of this excellent litany, produced by the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. I believe it deserves a wider use:

Lord of every time and place, God of integrity and truth,
we pray for wisdom as we prepare to vote in the Federal election.

Let us give thanks to God, saying, ‘we thank you, Lord’.

For this land and the diversity of its peoples,
we thank you, Lord.

For all who work for peace and justice in this land,
we thank you, Lord.

For leaders who serve the common good,
we thank you, Lord.

For robust democracy and freedom to participate in public life,
we thank you, Lord.

For media scrutiny and open debate,
we thank you, Lord.

Let us pray to the Lord, saying, ‘Hear us, good Lord’.

Bless those who administer the electoral process,
that they may uphold fairness, honesty and truth.
Hear us, good Lord.

Impart your wisdom to all who propose policy,
that their promises may serve those in greatest need.
Hear us, good Lord.

Give integrity to party leaders, candidates and campaign workers,
and keep them from deceit and corruption.
Hear us, good Lord.

Protect all engaged in public life, with their families, friends and colleagues,
that nothing may demean or do them harm.
Hear us, good Lord.

Direct those who influence opinion through the media,
that we may listen, speak and vote with sound minds.
Hear us, good Lord.

The Litany concludes with one or both of these prayers:

Lord of every time and place, God beyond our dreaming,
we pray for wisdom as we prepare to vote in the Federal election.
Give us a Parliament committed to the priorities of your kingdom,
so that peace, compassion, truth and justice may prevail among us,
and make us a blessing to all peoples, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

God, bless Australia,
guard our people
guide our leaders
and give us peace;
for Jesus Christ’’s sake.  Amen.

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Friday fragments—23.04.10

Anzac Day…

…is on Sunday. Eureka St has some interesting reading.


When you’re being criticised

Brian McLaren has some good stuff on responding to criticism. And a great prayer to meditate on at such times.


Work FOR the people

The word ‘liturgy’ is often misunderstood as ‘the work of the people’. Makes as much sense as a butterfly being a fly that hangs around butter.

This new blog gives a better understanding—of liturgy as work for the people—and more besides. I’ll be interested to see how it develops.


Feria de Abril

Or April Fair. But this one’s in Seville! My daughter lives there, and sounds like it was fun!

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Brisbane City Stations of the Cross

This year, our Good Friday service is built around a series of Stations of the Cross located in Brisbane city—around the various churches, and in Anzac and Post Office Squares.

The artist is Lindsay Farrell, an old school friend of mine (and a Baptist!) who has generously loaned us the original paintings for our service.

Look here to start viewing the images online. Alternatively, download the images as a pdf file.

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Friday fragments — 05.03.10

Mosque helps out local church

A church in Ilford, Essex, had its £600 Christian Aid Week collection stolen. The money was replaced by members of the neighbouring mosque, who had already donated to the cause.

I love this kind of story; pity it doesn’t get wider coverage.


Global Atheist Convention

Andy Hamilton confesses that he is looking forward to the Global Atheist Convention in his town, Melbourne,  ‘with the same tempered gloom that would descend upon me if an international convention of Christian evangelists came to town’. He has written an interesting and thoughtful piece, in part saying

The wellsprings and justification for religious faith, and for other foundational views of life, are to be found in qualities of human experience that are not susceptible to large, knockdown and narrow arguments. Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.

Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.

In conversation we can tease out the subtleties of our intuitions, and the ways in which we account for the beauty and the complexities of our world. We can explore why people find religious faith persuasive, and also come to see how people put together their lives and their world without it.

Go and read more at Eureka St.


Over 99.9% of young people don’t use heroin

I’m impressed by the young people I see around me.  ASBO Jesus agrees; see this fabulous cartoon.


Stations of the Cross for the rest of us

Lent is well under way, Holy Week a few weeks away. This is a helpful article as we journey on the way.


Levitical Law for the home

Hilarious. Here’s a taste:

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.

h/t Seven Whole Days

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