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Friday, 7 July 2017

thoughts on wet paint

ORDINARY SUNDAY 14 (July 9th) 2017


Genesis 24:34-48, 42-19, 58-67
Psalm 45.10-17
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

We’re probably all reasonably familiar with the story of Adam and Even and the temptation in the Garden of Eden. What those of us who attend church probably don’t realize is that this story is  unfamiliar to the generations growing up after us. We, and our stories are far removed from public awareness these days.
That is a mixed blessing. But in any case, the story of the temptation in the Garden could have been told another way. God put Adam and even in the middle of Clive Square, and said, dudes, do anything you like, but don’t touch that bench over there. The paint’s still wet, okay?
Paul got that. Being Paul he used complex language. ‘I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.’ Whatever, Paul. Just don’t touch the paint.
We’ve all been there, some more spectacularly than others. But the message of Jesus is very clear: the moment we  claim that we are above fallibility, we have fallen. ‘Don’t throw stones in glass houses.’
Paul often referred to what he called ‘the flesh’, sarx, or in te reo, kikokiko.[1] It is the place where we reach for the apple in the garden or touch the wet paint – though the latter may be stupidity as much as sin, and is there a difference?  I do it, you do it, even bishops do it, though some forget that they do.
Speaking of bishops, which I do with great caution, an Australian journalist wrote yesterday of the anger being currently directed at Cardinal Pell. Elizabeth Farrelly wrote ‘Is this really an argument about religion? Or is it something else entirely?’ The anger directed at Pell is righteous to a point, and if he as an individual has knowingly perpetrated or covered up evil then so let it be. But much of the anger is the same as that that threw Britain out of Brexit, and Donald Trump helter skelter scary into the White House. It is anger at institutions, and the churches are a particularly meaningless institution, to those outside, at which to direct anger, for it seems to many that we do nothing but spoil human potential for pleasure. 

I saw the same in my own situation over a year ago. When news of my dismissal hit the media my incoming mail went ballistic. I have on file more than 20,000 words of support sent to or about me at the time, and copies of many emails sent to Bishop Hedge (though for whatever reason no complaint sent to him ever received a reply). 

I took much strength from that outpouring of support, but it left me uneasy. Was this just another opportunity for friends and strangers to excoriate a church leader for the sake of dissing (disparaging) an unpopular institution that is seen as an oppressive killer of joy? It probably was. Hedge had taken a stand on events from 25 years ago, events that were not predatory or criminal, and the public saw a distinction. The public are more grace-filled than some in the church hierarchy, and would have none of the attitude. The comments make for good reading. 

This is about sin. We do the things we do not wish to do. Anger directed at Pell is because of the perception that he has led an institution that is pointing fingers at sinners while sinning itself. Interestingly in New Zealand, where most sexual abuse took place in government run homes, we are less sure where to point fingers. 

By and large, where the church and its leaders perpetrate evil, I believe we should point fingers – if our own noses are clean. They never are.

But the issue in government-run and church institutions was the abuse of power. Perhaps that’s what some people saw in my situation too, though it pales into insignificance alongside sexual abuse. Abuse of power is evil, and rather than the yoke of freedom that Jesus promises in the gospels, perpetrators of power-imbalance impose crushing weight on their victims. As Lord Acton saw in the nineteenth century, power corrupts. The more we have, the more likely we are to use it abusively. I am very suspicious of the use of power in the church: service, love, hope, comfort, joy, these are the tools that the Spirit gives us. Power is not.

We are called to a dance. We are called to dance a dance of the joy of divine aroha,[2] arohanui.[3] We are called to a dace of tūmanako[4] (tūmanakonui, if there is such a word!).  We are called to a dance of rangimarie[5] and of te rangatiratanga o te Atua,[6] not to corrupt imitations.

Our churches are often empty. The terrible miscalculations in the public statements and behaviour of church leaders like Cardinal Pell and others serve only to reinforce society’s scepticism about our institution. Perhaps our institutions have to die – certainly the vastly expensive empires like those of Tikanga Pākehā face the stern judgement of God. The dance of God’s children, that I have mentioned before in this place, will go on. We must learn to dance, not judge, to invite others to the dance, not tell them not to touch wet paint.

[1] Gal 5.24: Ko te hunga ia o te Karaiti, kua ripekatia e ratou te kikokiko, me ona hihiritanga, me ona hiahia /  Those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires to the cross and crucified them there.
[2] Love.
[3] Great/immeasurable love.
[4] Hope.
[5] Peace.
[6] The righteous justice of God.
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