The following came across my desk - it takes just under 10 mins of your time. I will say no more than it is worth your while to give over the ten minutes and discover not so much Pope Francis of Rome but a window into an icon that rings a tiny bell within our chest that this narrative is long overdue ... simply click on the link below...
This poem, meant to be repeated the first thing on the first day of the year, comes from throughout the Scottish Highlands in many different versions.
God, bless to me the new day,
Never vouchsafed to me before;
It is to bless your own presence
You have given me this time, O God.
Bless to my eye,
May my eye bless all it sees;
I will bless my neighbor,
May my neighbor bless me.
God, give me a clean heart,
Let me not from sight of your eye;
Bless to me my family,
And bless to me my means.
Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992). These are prayers, hymns, and incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the 19th century.
with every good wish and blessing aplenty for 2016
Going beyond the Label:
Several years ago, while giving a workshop, I was approached during a tea break by a couple of participants who asked me: "What are you? We've been trying to figure out whether you are “liberal or conservative."
My response: "What difference should that make? Why don't we just weigh the value of what is said as to truth or falsity, depth or some kind of fad, without having to consider whether a liberal is driving it or a conservative agenda? Labels aren't important. What is important is truth, depth, God's consolation and challenge, things helpful to build up the community. No ideology has a monopoly on these."
That needs to be said aloud more often. It is generally unhelpful to label others. As soon as we define others in terms of their ideology, ecclesiology, politics or agenda we insert an extra, unneeded, interpretation-filter between them and us and become more selective in our acceptance of truth.
Granted, we are always somewhat selective in any case. As we were taught in out three years of Philosophy, everyone operates out of a certain software (philosophically termed a "pre-ontology" and more commonly called a "bias"). The discipline of Epistemology (more recently renamed, Hermeneutics) has forever put an end to any naiveté about this. Nobody is completely objective and the route towards objectivity is best pursued when everyone precisely tries to name his or her biases rather than assuming that he or she does not have any and are in a position to point them out in others. My time in studying and lecturing in Sociology called me to drive this point home repeatedly. Whenever we label, we further distort our perception of reality.
That's also true when we label ourselves. As soon as we self-define and label ourselves as liberal, conservative or even as someone trying for middle ground, we become unhealthily selective in our listening.
Sadly, both in societies in general and inside of theological and ecclesial circles, we are obsessed with labeling. Moreover, we do it equally on both sides of the ideological spectrum: "She's a liberal! He's a conservative! She's a feminist! He's one of those young neo-conservatives! He's fundamentalist! She's a missionary freak!"
The most helpful response might be: So what! None of these labels determines the truth and none of them, in se, distorts it. God's house has many rooms, just as truth lies in many places, and God's consolation and challenge is always somewhat coloured by the biases of those who bring the good news: liberals, conservatives, feminists, Protestants, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, New Age people, Social Justice advocates, Prayer Book Society members, Charismatic.
The challenge is precisely to be open to the truth beyond labels, beyond our own temperament, beyond our circle of ideological intimates, and beyond what is prescribed for us as politically correct by either the ‘left’ or the ‘right.’
Part of this openness, too, is having the courage to ask ourselves: In what am I ultimately interested? The truth or what fits my ecclesiology? The truth or what's politically correct? The truth or my being right, even if being right means being bitter and at odds with many sincere people? It is not easy to ask these questions because, once we ask them, we have to admit that a lot of truth lies outside our own circles.
Recently there was a survey done on the reading habits of both Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy. Each was asked: "Other than the bible, what authors do you read most often to help you in your ministry?" Here are their top five picks in each tradition:
1) Henri Nouwen,
2) John Paul II,
3) Raymond Brown,
4) William J. Bausch,
5) Walter Burghardt.
1) Henri Nouwen,
2) William Willimon,
3) Frederick Buechner,
4) Max Lucado,
5) Eugene Peterson.
What's interesting is that everyone on both lists defies simple classification in terms of liberal or a conservative. Some will probably object and immediately label John Paul II as a conservative. But that can only be done if we have not read his social encyclicals or his apologies for the historical sins of institutional Christendom or witnessed his prayer and gestures as he walked in the old city of Jerusalem.
The same is true of those who would simplistically label Raymond Brown a liberal. That is more easily done if you have never met or read Raymond Brown.
Recently I was again reminded when a conversation turned to psychological and church labels: "What's your Myers-Briggs personality chart?" "What's your Enneagram number?" "Where do you place yourself on the ecclesial, ideological scale?" There was an eager and animated sharing in this.
One person, however, a young mother and nurse, remained silent throughout. Finally, someone prevailed upon her: "Where do you land in all of this?" Her answer: "I have an unlisted number!"
There is wisdom in her answer. We need to let go of labels and try to let the truth speak independently of them. We need, too, to have the courage to face up to where our own ideologies are blinding us to truth, keeping us in unnecessary anger, and dividing us from others of sincere will. The truth can set us free, no matter which pulpit it comes from.
That is fast becoming Good News for me!
Another year moves on placed in the growing basket of a years past.
We have seen again so many events on our global community which have left us wondering at times where it is all heading. We have also no doubt experienced in our own families the invariable ups and downs of health and sickness, times of tension and worry, death and grief, celebrations and times of change and transition.
We have had an odd year. With Emma’s move to Melbourne for study and the chapter and verse of that new journey for her. Family celebrations and family funerals which tell us boldly that time stands still for no-one and the unknown is only a phone call away. The world of business where we see each day the various levels and at times tangible real poverty as good people strive to make ends meet and keep their often fragile and often fragmented families together. The many single people who are broken with only the day-to-day round of bills, milk and bread, money to pay public housing rent and the long what for hospital visits. Our daily brief encounter with them is only a moment in time where all we can do is give conversation and a sense of respect that we are their equal. In and through it all, we generally see the churches and our politicians as being so out of touch with what is really happening in the streets and lanes where the daily grind of trying to make each day count for something can prove a real effort.
But do you know what? Even the picture on our Christmas cards are only moments in time. If we could see past the edges, we would probably see some pretty familiar sights. I have one card of a cosy little cabin snuggled in some snowy woods, with one set of tire tracks running up to the door—but I bet the lot next door has been clear-cut to make way for a subdivision, and that there is at least one out building falling down way back in the paddock!
The story, we know it by heart—how the whole town was clogged with travellers, none of whom was there by choice. The emperor wanted them all counted and taxed and he could have cared less where they slept. That was their problem, not his….Joseph and Mary got a stall instead of a room, which was not as bad as we sometimes make it out to be, but still, not an ideal situation. We know they got a feed trough, because that was where they laid their treasure, and that is when the picture was taken—right then, while the star was still overhead and the angels were still singing in the rafters.
But twenty minutes later, what? The hole in the heavens had closed up and the only music came from the bar at the inn… As she leaned over to pick him up, Mary started crying too and when Joseph tried to comfort her she told him she wanted her mother. If she had just married a nice boy from Nazareth, she said, she would be back home where she belonged instead of competing with sheep for a place to sleep.
Then she said she was sorry and Joseph said not to think another thing about it. He meant it, too. They both hurt all over and there was nothing to eat and it was cold as the dickens, but you know what? God was still there, right in the middle of the picture. Peace was there, and joy, and love—not only in the best of times but also and especially in the worst of times—because during those times there could be no mistake about who was responsible.
It was God-With-Us. Not the God-Up-There somewhere who ‘responds’ to our prayers by lifting us out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of them—however far from home we are, however less than ideal our circumstances, however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send. That is where God is born, just there, in any cradle we will offer him, on any pile of straw we will pat together with our hands….
The daily test to keep hope alive is the ever anew challenge to stop and stare into the crib, gazing and remembering why it is that we are here at all!!
To remember and to live fully as fully as we are able, to love extravagantly without measure or pettiness and become all that we are created to be and to answer the living question inside each of us: What is that we are going to leave behind with our one and only life? How will we be remembered? - while knowing at all times that the Holy One of the far-flung stars and planets holds us in the palm of life’s hand.
In these brief moments of time, may you sense peace, joy, hope and love surround you like the canvas of bright stars in the night sky… Stephen
This hopelessness, this demeaning of humanity by the indignity of cruel death, for that great and growing number who live without a faith-connectedness today, this is compounded by a scientific knowledge that reveals that death is built into us genetically from the moment of conception.
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Guardian - Patmos Abbey