A cripple with damaged testicles – I dare not desecrate the sanctuary!

I came across a truly horrible Scripture passage today, Leviticus 21:16 – 23

  • The LORD said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’”
As Christians we often feel the need to talk around passages like these–to defend them. Sometimes, however, we simply need to face up to the fact that some texts cannot be defended.    obviously, in making this statement, I’m saying something of my understanding of the  nature of biblical inspiration ( Yes, I do affirm biblical inspiration, yet this does not mean I cannot question or  critique the biblical text)–but that discussion can wait for another time.
For now, it is enough to ask ourselves the question, do our attitudes to people with disabilities of all sorts  (especially mental disabilities) reflect religious texts (or common attitudes) such as these or  have our values been shaped by the gracious inclusivity of Jesus?  I suspect we hope the latter but in reality the former will too often be true of us.

Testimonies to faith we could do without

Reading a newspaper yesterday when I came across an article about Jarryd Hayne and his Christian faith. Apparently he was saved at Hillsong church (my church), and he notes the following about the power of his faith after he was left out of the State of origin rugby league squad:

Really? “The biggest test of my faith”! He’s obviously leading pretty hard life.   I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, as this is such a brilliant for example of the stupidity of so much of our middle to upper class Western Christianity–concerned about the inane while the rest of the world faces real hardship.

Of course it is true that faith should change our character so that we respond in a better way to all the situations of life,  and this is the point that Hayne is trying to make. But he would be better advised to keep that character development to himself.    it provides atheists such as Peter Fitzgibbon with the right to ask the question: “Religious people, can you tell us: Does missing out on Origin selection count as a worthy “test of faith”? For the rest of us, it was commonsense alone that not only tested our faith, it shattered it!”

Goodbye Paradise and thanks for all the fish

Let me start by giving my apologies to those of you who occasionally glance at this blog wanting to know how I have been, only to find me absent for months.   By way of explanation, the problem started in hospital when I was moved from a private room into a shared four-bedroom ward. At the time the situation was fairly distressing and I did not have the emotional energy to continue with blogging. Even if I had wanted to, the voice recognition software that I use to type simply does not work in open spaces. I need a quiet room to ensure that background conversation does not confuse the program.

Cameron and I posing

As it turns out, I enjoyed spending the last months of my hospital stay in a room with quality young men who shared the challenges and the stupidity and the hilarity of  our out of control bodies. In the bed next to me, Cameron McMullen was a South Coast boy (Ulladulla) who broke his neck diving into the surf. His injury is similar to mine,  and he is a 28-year-old married father of two young toddlers. He has an indomitable spirit and along with his lovely wife Jade he is facing the difficulties of life after spinal-cord injury positively and with real determination. He has been helped by amazing community support from people in his hometown. In addition to friendship and hospital visitation, they have put on fund raising events that have  been wildly successful and helped him build a wheelchair friendly house.  this sort of support is of incalculable value, especially since Cameron cannot return to his previous profession (he owned a bread run). And in case you were wondering, he is not a member of  a local church – generosity of spirit is certainly not an exclusively Christian trait.

N.b. this is not a sly way of asking for money! I have been well looked after, especially by my family and Alphacrucis college. Also, I am blessed with the profession to which I can return (and which I love) –  even if full-time work might be a challenge. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to lose both the function of your body and  your means of employment.

On the other side of the room, Dean Martelozzo is a 21-year-old who broke his back skiing in France and is now paraplegic. Dean is also  moving ahead in leaps and bounds and I can well imagine him going on to win a medal at the Paralympic games! Dean is not much older than my own son, but it was great to share a room with him. Made me feel young again, especially with his posters of surfers and bikini girls covering the wall. The feminist in me might have  to be tempted to remove some of the posters (my wife did graffiti one by adding a male appendage!)  but the truth is that, notwithstanding the impact of spinal injury on certain parts of the body, I am still a man!

So many other quality people I was able to share life with  in hospital. Vicky Walters (supported by her wonderful husband Cliff and gorgeous family)  broke her neck riding a horse in a Rodeo and is now also a quadriplegic (to be more precise, she walked into hospital after the accident but  was rendered immobile after a botched operation at Wollongong Hospital). She has experienced a lot of pain and rehabilitation has been slow. Even so she blesses everyone she meets. She is a woman of faith and prayer and is able to light up a room. On my last weekend in hospital Vicky and Cliff escorted Cameron and I to the beach at Coogee. Vicky was delighted to watch Cameron and I bogging our wheelchairs  in the sand, needing Cliff to push us out. She was driving a four-wheel-drive chair that she will need when she returns to her farm, so she was able to enjoy our problems going cross-country in our poncey ‘city’ chairs.

Kerry Sanders is another woman of faith who broke her back in a fall. Injuries to her bottom have kept her in bed for months, most of the time lying on her tummy.  I spent a number of weeks in bed he is a horrible experience. It takes a special kind of person to remain positive in bed for months at a time.  As testimony to her strength, everyone  she meets loves her.  Goodness must run in her family, as her sister, Di, would bring me food–the ultimate kindness in a hospital serving plastic meals.

I’m not sure whether or not life will keep me in contact with these great people–and the many others I met in hospital. I hope so. On 9 April I returned home – Just over seven months in Paradise.  I thought the day would never come. It is so much better to be back with my family and out of the institutional drudgery of the Prince of Wales. But I am thankful for what was done for me in hospital–doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physios,  psychologists giving their all for my rehabilitation. Where would I be without them? And where would I be without the encouragement of my fellow patients? God bless them all.

PS for those of you wondering about the meaning of the title to this post, it is a reference to Douglas Adams’ series, the hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy.  It really bears no relation to anything that I’ve said, but it popped into my head and I so went with it….

Grumpy old man begrudgingly reads Love Wins

**  Published on Two Pints Later **

I teach theology, and because I’m likely to be asked on a daily basis over the next few months what I think of the book, I knew I could not avoid reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Now, I normally like what Bell as to say but I’m often disappointed when preachers put pen to paper. I was not surprised, therefore, to discover a book written largely in point form, single sentence paragraphs, that could be finished in less than an hour (okay, slight exaggeration, let’s give it two hours). Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want a book of this type to be written like Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. But you might hope that a manuscript that will make as much money as this would have literary qualities at least equal to that of a daily newspaper. At a bare minimum you would think that the editor of a Christian book would know that the possessive, Jesus’, does not have an additional ‘s’ (Jesus’s). Okay, I’m being churlish. My jealousy stems from the fact that academic books normally take more than a few weeks to write and make far less money!

My real complaint is with the shallow nature of the argument set out in a book purporting to address some of the more complex questions of Christian faith. It is not that I disagree with much of what Bell has to say. The opposite is true. There are important concepts and ideas throughout that need to be addressed if the church hopes to be anything other then an outdated, irrelevant and fear mongering institution. Bell is arguing for a move away from fundamentalism and for the embracing of a gospel focused more on the love of God than on hellfire and damnation; on a church that cares more about redressing hell on earth in the here and now then preaching about a future heaven and hell. Sadly, however, little of this will be heard as critics justly attack the unsubstantiated biblical analysis that frames his case. The most obvious is his re-translation of the phrase, in Matthew 25, “eternal punishment” as “a time of trimming”, or his related suggestion that “forever is not really a category the biblical writers used”. He provides no reference to a scholarly source that might help substantiate such radical claims, and that is the problem throughout. Readers are left suspicious of his interpretation of the Bible and, since they are not given the opportunity to investigate the basis of his arguments, are given no reason to trust what he has to say. If he can’t be trusted in matters such as these why should he be believed in the broader case he is making?

Bell has the basis of a worthwhile book. He has some cracking one-liners, such as his advocacy of the word “hell”:

  • We need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secret hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
  • And for that, the word “hell” works quite well. Let’s keep it.

I agree wholeheartedly with the point. I just don’t think Bell’s argument supporting it was convincing.

Prayer and film

Roger Ebert speaking about the upcoming brad Pitt and Sean Penn film, tree of life:

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer “to” anyone or anything, but prayer “about” everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.

See: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/05/a_prayer_beneath_the_tree_of_l.html

Conversations with Dan: 3 Shane on Minchin parody

Dan, even though you have not yet had a chance to respond to my first post, I do have to take the opportunity to pursue a tangent, and say something about Tim Minchin’s thank you God. I confess to finding it funny on the first read but less so with time (you were right to presume that I might not be a big fan). While it might be clever humour (and it’s a shame we cannot see the live version) it is the sort of thoughtless atheism that is too common among the 95% of unbelievers (dig, dig) who, unlike yourself, set up a straw house they label ‘Christianity’ and then marvel at how easy it is to burn down. What I mean to say is, I recognise almost none of the views of my Christian friends in the thing Minchin is parodying.  Of course the same is true of most Christian responses to atheism! We presume the atheist is a thoughtless pot smoking greenie. Nice to have a conversation with a brother that can get past the name-calling.

Now, while I would like to get to your important discussion of healing soon, I might take the opportunity to respond to another one of Minchin’s concerns. He says:

  • ##, what are the odds
    That of history’s endless parade of gods
    That the god you just happen to be taught to believe in
    Is the actual one and he digs on healing
    But not the AIDS-ridden African nations
    The victims of the plague or the flood-addled Asians
    But healthy, privately-insured Australians
    With common and curable corneal degenerations

I hear this complaint a lot but I actually think it’s logic is upside down. The author presumes there is no God or, at least, that the God we believe in cares for the white Westerner but doesn’t give a hoot about the starving Third World. In fact, however, it seems to me that global poverty is very much a human problem (I would use the label sin) rather than a divine one. Further, the Christian Church, in response to God concern about poverty and injustice, has a long history of working tirelessly and sacrificially on the side of the poor and oppressed. The church is criticised because its God is supposedly impervious to evil in India and Africa, yet, in fact, it is God at work in people like Mother Teresa (and countless unnamed people like her) that show us that the opposite is true. indeed, we only patronize Africans when we parody the Jesus that countless millions of them have come to believe in. In reality, it is Western secularism that tends to ignore poverty.

I could say more but I realise that this is very tangential to your point. back to a discussion of healing – or whatever you wish.

Another Day in Paradise: Spirit and flesh

Thursday – After a marathon watching of Kill Bill 1 & 2 with my 16 year old son Jeremy, the day before, today was a much more spiritual day. It started out with a visit from my colleagues and friends, Chris Simon and David Parker. We met in the little hospital chapel, since Chris had come as a priest, purple stole and all, to administer communion, bless me and pray for my healing. Chris is an Anglican Priest with a High Church background who was baptised in the Spirit (tongues and all!) during the 70’s and who thereafter was the Pastor of a Charismatic Anglican Church. I have the privilege and joy of working with him at Alphacrucis College. David Parker is everyone’s favourite New Testament lecturer and I’m sure needs no introduction from me.

We followed the formal liturgy and had the joy of a three way sharing of communion – wafers and real wine mixed with water (There was a reason for the mixing of water and wine, but it eludes me right now…). Beyond this I cannot really describe the time we had. It is hard to explain the simple joy of three friends in prayer.

7.30 that evening I attended Thursday night Mass at the Catholic Church across the road from the Hospital. The service was celebrating the Passover meal of Jesus with His disciples the night before the crucifixion. The church was beautiful and the ceremony full of rich symbolism, including the Priest stripping his robes and washing the feet of 12 members of the congregation in memory of Jesus’ act of servanthood to His disciples. This was only my second experience of a Catholic service and I enjoyed it’s beauty and rich tradition. I did feel a little out of place. As a pentecostal I am simply not used to robes and candles, to bell ringing and incense. More than this, I’m just not used to being a lone wheelie in a public place. I am ushered through the side of the building by the priest and given a seat near the front. My chair is tall and I cannot hide in my seat. During the Eucharist (communion) I have at least ten people offer to bring me the meal. Not being a Catholic I decline, and find my way out of the building. Perhaps I am not yet ready for a service such as this, but it was beautiful and I sensed the Spirit’s presence.

Back to the hospital and into bed, only to be woken at midnight by doctors and nurses yelling at a patient in my room (I have lost my private room and now share a four person ward). Apparently Ahmed had taken an overdose of pain medication. My problem was that the yelling, swearing and machines beeping kept me awake for hours. I felt like climbing out of my bed and shoving a pillow on his head. Good thing I was immobile. A very unspiritual and ungracious ending to the day. Proof I needed to be reminded of the meaning of the Good Friday crucifixion.