how to avoid glibness at the gravesite

I acutely remember the first time I shared a room with a coffin (it wasn’t all that long ago). At the time — and even reflecting on it now — I was seriously disoriented. Something in me cried out, ‘How outrageous is believing in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in a situation like this!’

Now I don’t think I was questioning the Christian hope. I suspect my reaction had more to do with being confronted by the reality of death. And with the realisation that there’s no place for glibness at the gravesite.

This is something I’m getting a stronger and stronger grip on. I know that the Christian good news does have some significant things to say about death — and shouldn’t be cowed or reduced to awkward, foot-shuffling silence. But, at the same time, there’s this awesome and deeply painful reality to it — which should restrain us from giving pat answers (not simply as a matter of pastoral wisdom but rather as one of theological conviction).

I genuinely struggle to hold all this together. Yet I take heart from the ‘Order for the Burial of the Dead’ in the Book of Common Prayer, which works hard to do the following three things (and a whole lot more besides):

  1. To be honest about the reality of death — facing up to both its tragedy and its universality.
  2. To honour the memory of the deceased — which means speaking truly in a manner befitting the occasion (and so avoiding flattering falsehood and platitude).
  3. To point to the Lord Jesus in order to call upon all to put their hope only in the living God.

I’m still working on how to translate this for my preaching and conversation…

the lost art of the sentence from Scripture

titleAt College, I have the great privilege of sitting in chapel three times a week. For many it’s an acquired taste. And I certainly wasn’t a big fan in my first two years at College. Happily, something sort of ‘clicked’ around the start of third year — although chapel and I do still have our … moments (usually when health, workload or whatever is weighing me down).

One out of three chapel services is run using the Morning Prayer service from An Australian Prayer Book (actually, it’s really only one in six I think — we only do this for half the College year).

And to be honest I love it! Not just because I’m a ‘young fogey’ — although I do appreciate the rhythms and reflectiveness of the Prayer Book, and I’ve come to relish the way reciting the Creed brings with it a sense of solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters who struggled for the soul of the faith.

The main thing that appeals to me about the Prayer Book services is the directness and economy of the exhortations. As we move through from praise to confession to prayer to hearing the Word and back to prayer, the Prayer Book is constantly concerned not only to help us understand what we’re supposed to be doing at each point but to actually do it.

And one of the crucial ways it achieves this is by keeping things simple. It doesn’t waste words. It certainly doesn’t hit us with whole slabs of Scripture. It simply exhort us with one or two sentences judiciously drawn from Scripture.

I think we can learn a lot from this — whatever the dangers of proof-texting it may bring with it. Many of the more contemporary services I’ve participated in involve quite a lot of explanation about what we’re doing as we confess our sins, etc.

Our desire to explain everything so that people understand is commendable. Unfortunately, all this explanation sometimes eclipses the real thing. We spend so much time thinking about what confession is that we never get around to actually confessing our sins. And that’s a tragedy.

a call for creative ministry

Let me lay something on you:

We do in fact live in an age of revolution and experiment; unless a thing is new, it has little or no appeal. We must never put our trust in novelty as a substitute for truth: that would be “another Gospel”, but not an authentic Gospel. That caution is necessary; but then it is right to add that Evangelicals have a solemn duty to take their place in the van of all those creative areas of new work and experiment today. They should stand out in the forefront of true theology, both in scholarship and in authorship, with a clear-cut contribution to the fields of education and literature. They should be more active than ever in evangelism and in missionary concern, all unafraid in exploring new ways of true spiritual outreach to the unchurched and the non-Christian. They should honestly recognize the value of common prayer in the forms of public worship and the need for liturgical relatedness to the daily affairs of a modern congregation. They should examine existing structures with a view to replacing what is outmoded and improving what is effective, while never losing sight of the great need for pastoral compassion in the Name of Christ for all who are lost or out of the way. The Church of England has never been a mere spiritual ghetto: its doors should stand open so that all who are in need may come in. They should face the moral questions of a permissive society and the social problems of an affluent country with an intelligent application of the teaching of the Bible. They should clear their minds on the great issues of church affairs such as the ecumenical movement or the organic reunion of now independent Denominations. These are only some of the needs which call for wise judgement or for imaginative response today.

How’s that for a call for a creative evangelical response to contemporary challenges?

It’s delightfully expansive — taking in academic engagement, evangelism, world (and home) mission, liturgical revision, strategy and structural reform, and pastoral care.

It’s from the Presidential Address to Sydney Synod in 1980(!) by Archbishop Marcus Loane — God rest him. But it feels so fresh, doesn’t it?

I give it a hearty ‘Amen’!


buying theological textbooks (not quite a guide for the perplexed)

I may be a student at Moore College, but I’m not a candidate for ordination in the Sydney Anglican diocese.

Not because I’ve got anything against Sydney Anglicanism. I love Sydney! It’s my home. I met the Lord and took all my most important first steps in the faith as part of Anglican churches in Sydney. But I’ve refrained from signing up as a candidate because Natalie and I are keen to head overseas — at least in the short to medium term. For us, me not being a candidate means freedom. It means not being committed to stay in Sydney straight after College.

All good so far. But it has its downside too. Part of which is missing out on the fairly lucrative book allowance the diocese hands out. Although, it does mean that I feel less beholden to Moore Books, and more at liberty to explore the options on the magical ‘interweb’…

I’ve really only splashed around in the shallows so far. But here’s what I’ve discovered about getting hold of theological books online: books

  • A is for … Amazon: I’ve only recently shopped for books on Amazon. But it was great. They’ve got a wide selection. Reasonably priced (as long as you’re using American dollars — I did, I was given a voucher). And brilliant delivery times — my books arrived a month earlier than they predicted! But you do pay for it. Nearly half my $50 voucher went towards delivery.
  • Angus & Robertson Online: Although Natalie’s extended family often give me Angus & Robertson gift cards at Christmas, I’ve only ordered stuff through their online catalogue once or twice. Their range is pretty limited when it comes to theology. The price can vary wildly between ridiculously cheap and stupidly expensive. And, worst of all, you can’t redeem their vouchers at their online store. Bah-baum!
  • Berkelouw Books: Recent arrivals on King St (actually, just off it). The space is fantastic! And they do a mean chicken and grilled veg cous cous salad at the cafe. The second hand book section carries an … eclectic mix of theological books — with the occasional gem. 
  • Fishpond: I love these guys. A New Zealand company, they’ve got fairly reasonable prices, can get hold of a pretty good range of books, and deliver stuff in a timely manner (for free if you spend over $50 I think). They also offer periodic discounts to clear out my shopping cart (which always has something in it), which is nice. The only drawback: there’s a hefty surcharge for using Amex.

Please extend my list!

is God on our side?

I’ve said it before. But it’s worth going on record about it. In the context of global Anglicanism at the present moment, the prayer for Unity in AAPB is rapidly on its way to becoming my theme song:

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
our only Saviour, Prince of Peace;
give us grace seriously to lay to heart
the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Take away all hatred and prejudice,
and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord:
that, as there is but one body, and one Spirit,
and one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
so we may be all of one heart, and of one mind,
united in one holy bond of truth and peace,
of faith and charity,
and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seriously, I can barely keep it together when I pray it out loud — it rips my guts out.

It’s not just the stunning and richly biblical vision of unity that we’re calling on God to hammer out amongst us. It’s the white-hot passion to feel as God feels about the situation. As well as the willingness to disown exclusive possession of grace and truth. And grant that God isn’t necessarily on our side…