Monday, July 31, 2006

More photos

A deer (well, obviusly!)
The motel we stayed at in Armidale had its own deer park. It was tricky to get a good photo because of the position of the fences and gate, but one came close enough!

A wayside flower found while on a walk
(No, we were walking, NOT the flower)

a little country church in the middle of nowhere

A sheep. I actually took the photo from the car window. The scene was so quintessentially outback

Inclusion or Exclusion?

More and more (at least in the circles I move in) people seem to be intent onmaking the faith EXclusive: "unles you believe/practise X,Y,Z you are probably a heretic, or at best a very weak christian who hasn't fully submitted themselves to what the scriptures say" Who exalted us to set the boundary markers according to the limits of our own understanding? Yes, there are absolutes: truth is truth, right is right and sin is sin -- but within the boundaries which God has set up (which we all step across every day and need to come back inside them again-- it's called repentance) there is plenty of room to move. there is room for you to dance in that corner and you to kneel silently silently in that one, there is room for many different kinds of music which genuinely inspire different people to worship in spirit and in truth, there is room for the evangelist and the social worker and the preacher and the contemplative, there is room for many different perspectives and approaches to key doctrinal issues (eg justification, baptism, theology of the church etc etc). On some of those things I will have strong views, on some of them you will have strong views, and we must each do what we believe is right according to the grace given us, for "whatever is not of faith is sin". But even where our understandings divide us, surely we can see that it is Jesus Himself who unites us, that just because hands do things one way, and livers another and eyes a third etc etc does not stop us from all being parts of one body. Unity was never meant to be based on uniformity; unity is based on love, and the absolute wonder that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone so different from myself, turning dross into gold and making beauty from ashes, just as He is doing in my life! We pilgrims come from many different directions, but as we continue to move towards Jesus, inevitably we are brought closer to one another. but some people, tragically, prefer intellectual arrogance to inclusive love.

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!"

Outwitted" by Edwin Markham

Saturday, July 29, 2006

How do we know?

Ok, this is heavier stuff than I normally post, so if theological argument is not your thing, feel free to skip it. But here in Sydney this is an important issue, because of a significant group (referred to as the mjs in this -- they are the dominant group at the moment in my own denomination, the same group who do not believe in the ordination of women or the charismatic activity of the Spirit) who believe that God only reveals Himself propositionally (through specific, dare I say formulaic, verbal statements in the Bible) and not in any other way. This description may not do justice to the nuances of their theology, unfortunately (from my perspective) it is an accurate reflection of their practice. This issue came up a while ago in some correspondence a friend was having with one of that party, and he asked for my take. These are my "thoughts in process":

++Their assumption is that knowing God intellectually is the primary requisite. Ok, this is a straw man in a sense, since no one (at least that I’ve known personally) would actually say that was their goal, but I am looking at the fruit here (since Jesus said that was how we are to discern our teachers) and what I see amongst mj’s in practice is the exaltation of intellectual understanding of the scriptures at the expense of other things which were long held to be central to Christian growth and obedience. I am not discounting the importance of intellectual knowledge or the value of scriptural study. We are commanded to love God with all of our minds (as well as heart and soul and strength), and I would assume that stretching our understanding to engage with truth as God defines it in His word is an essential part of that. How else are we to rightly divide the word of truth, or be renewed by the transforming of our minds? To assume, however, that that is our only knowledge, or that intellectual apprehension of theological truth is equivalent to godliness (or even some sort of brownie point), or that intellectual truth is the only truth of value, is much more shaky.

++The elevation of propositional theology. Yes, we do need propositional theology, or we end up floating around in a kind of lukewarm new age soup, where anything goes. But I would suggest that the principal function of propositional theology is negative – it defines what God is not. By propositional theology I know that God is Creator, not a pantheistic part of His own creation. By propositional theology I know that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit , He is therefore neither exclusively God or exclusively man. By propositional theology I know that I cannot be justified by my own works or find salvation outside of Christ. And so on … But propositional theology on its own will not save me, or produce in me the fruit of the Spirit, or move my heart in wonder, love and awe as I catch a glimpse of my awesome God. It sets the boundaries (and they are important boundaries) beyond which is not-God and untruth, but it does not reveal the truth of God to my inner person, because it only shows me truth in one dimension, like a black and white photo of a rainbow.

++Further, I would suggest that the Bible is not, except for a few particular verses, a book of propositional theology. To extract propositional theology from it is a valid exercise of human logic and reasoning, but let us be quite honest that that is what we are doing – presenting an interpretation, a “best fit” of Biblical revelation to the logical framework that is our cultural preference. We are one step (or maybe more?) removed from the actual Word of God. And, inevitably, I think, (though no one else seems to be asking it!) this also raises the question of why God chose to communicate this way. Why didn’t He give us a neat manual of propositional theology instead of this curious, messy, inspiring, frustrating amalgam of narrative and poetry and even people’s personal correspondence that has become our Bible? Could it possibly be that He wants to communicate something more to us than can be contained in propositional logic? Could the faith to which we are called be more than intellectual consent to a set of theological constructs, coupled with appropriately moral and correct behaviour? What is God up to and what response are we to give to this?

++Perhaps side by side with the question “how do we know?” we need to be asking “how much do we know?” One of the frightening trends I see among mj s is the assumption that when we have dealt with Truth propositionally and tied up the loose ends of our system of systematic theology, we have achieved all the knowledge of God that we humanly can or need to. Only an irrational level of conceit of course, could induce a person to believe that they then have total revelation, so the usual response is to assume that other forms of knowing God (which, after all, even at their uttermost, are still partial, and painfully inadequate, and shall be until we see Him face to face) are unnecessary, irrelevant or simply too unreliable to count. The assumption is that all our experience of God is a negligible source of truth compared to an intellectual abstraction. This is the point where I must part company with the mjs. I simply do not agree. Certainly all my experience, in it’s many forms must be subjected to and interpreted by scriptural truth – this is what the authority of scripture means, but it is, let us be really honest with ourselves, a bit of a two way process. Where my experience and the scripture do not line up, I certainly do not discard the bible, but neither do I discard my experience. I take a fresh look at both to work out which one I have misunderstood. Sometimes I must reinterpret my experience to fit in with objective revelation, sometimes (oh dear!) I find that the bible doesn’t necessarily say what I had thought it said. For instance, to give a concrete personal example, having been born and bred in the evangelical fold, I had always been taught cessationism. But when my experience demonstrated that God still speaks personally and directly to the believer today, I had to re-evaluate. Either my theology or my experience was wrong. In this case, careful re-reading of the scripture convinced me that the bible did not actually teach cessationism at all!

++At the heart of it all is mystery. God is eternal, infinite and holy. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We are summoned to love Him, trust Him and obey Him, to surrender our whole being to Him as the only possible right and sane response to both His kingship and His grace. Yet we can only know Him so far as He reveals Himself to us. Dare we assume any limits or restrictions on how He may choose to do this? He is God, He will impart Himself to us in as many ways as he chooses. It is we who so often have eyes but see not, and ears, but hear not, because we have presupposed that the God of the Universe will only meet with us in predetermined ways.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Men and women

A few days ago, on another forum, someone raised the question of whether women needed men's support on "women's issues", or whether that was something that should be left to women, because (he argued) how many women care about men's issues? This was my reply:

as a woman who has a (grown) son, I care about men’s issues. justice is about caring what happens to everyone, true equality has to mean giving real consideration to the needs of the other gender too. I want both my son and my daughter to have the opportunities to become all that God planted within them, and not have some essential part of their personality, giftedness or needs suppressed because it doesn’t fit some prescription of what their respective gender is allowed to do. But also, as a woman who has been marginalised by men, particularly withing the conservative church (my background is Anglican and Presbyterian) I treasure the experiences I have had of males who have spoken into those wounds and redressed the balance. I treasure the experience I had at a conference some years ago of hearing a man get up and publicly apologise to the women for the way the church has treated them — that was a major healing for me and led directly to hearing God’s call to go go and study theology now my children are grown. I treasure the letter a male friend wrote to me when he learned some of my story, apologising on behalf of his gender for the males in my life who had physically, sexually and emotionally abused me. I treasure a couple of good male friends who support and encourage me as I continue to break the “rules” I was brought up with. I am thankful for my male minister, who in an Anglican church in Sydney, has encouraged me in ministry and gives me opportunities to preach. Jesus’ kingdom is one in which there has to be justice and liberty for all, men and women, black and white, the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged of every kind. None of us can fix the world on our own, none of us should paternalistically decide to fix other people and take away their self-determination and personal responsibility; but we all need to offer whatever kind of support we are able to, as we are personally confronted with these issues. there can’t be a just world for anyone until there is a just world for everyone ..

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Queen of Iowa

Got the cd of Andrew Peterson's "The Far Country" I was listening in the car, and consequently haven't heard it all yet, but one song especially struck me on first hearing, The Queen of Iowa. It is about a girl who was dying from AIDS contracted through rape.

I met the queen of Iowa
She was dying on a couch in the suburbs
And with all of the things she was dying of
She was more alive than the others
She was pretty as a flower in a crystal vase
It lights up the room as it withers away
And she opened her eyes
When she heard the music play
We sang a hymn to the rhythm of the river that flows
Down from the mountain of the Holy Ghost
And into the souls
Of those who know His name
Like the Queen of Iowa
She was the Queen of Iowa
Her majesty was all ablaze
She was burning hot but not consumed
Our shoes removed in that holy place
In the hallowed ground of the living room
I bowed down low and I kissed her hand
And we raised a toast to the Promised Land
And I saw the tears of joy
Run down her face
We sang a hymn to the rhythm of the river that flows
Down from the mountain of the Holy Ghost
And into the souls
Of those who know His name
Like the Queen of Iowa
(Peace like a river in a valley of bones
It fills the valley up and it carries them home)
She was the Queen of Iowa
(Bridge)I could see my illusions scatter
Every time she drew a breath
I could see the heart of the matter:
The heart is a matter of life and death
I’ll never be the same
We sang about oceans of love again
As she stared past the ceiling and the sky above
Two court musicians, it was me and Ben
We were singing for the Queen of Iowa
We sang a hymn to the rhythm of the river that flows
Down from the mountain of the Holy Ghost
And into the souls
Of those who know His name
There was peace like a river in a valley of bones
It fills the valley up and it carries them home
To come alive againIn the river of Grace
Like the Queen of Iowa
(Peace like a river in a valley of bones
It fills the valley up and it carries them home)
She was the Queen of Iowa
Long live the Queen of Iowa
©Andrew Peterson

It was one of the most moving songs I have heard in a very long time ..

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works." --Robert Farrar Capon

Friday, July 21, 2006

blogging meme

Suzanne tagged me to answer these questions, so I'll have a go:

1. When did you start blogging and why?
I finally gave in in February and started. For a long time I resisted the whole blog thing, even though I've always been a writer, because I had an idea that a blog had to be a kind of online diary. I didn't want that, I'm not particularly interested in listing daily events, and there are private and personal things I have no desire to put on public display. but then it occurred to me that an online journal could be a way of putting together stuff that interested me, and that's the direction I've gone in.

2. What don't you write about?
Anything personal and private, my problems, my family (except for public events like graduations, birthdays, anniversaries etc). I don't want to get embroiled in political controversies, though I'll stick my neck out on issues I really see as matters of principle. My blog is more about things that interest me than about my private life.

3. Are you and your blogging personna the same person?
With pickles, what you see is what you get. I'm probably more serious in monologue than in conversation, to me jokes come up naturally in interaction, because of my overdeveloped sense of the absurd. But no, in other respects I think I'm very much my real self here: somewhere in the middle between introvert and extravert, passionate, quirky (ok, weird, but I prefer quirky) ..

4. How do you use blogging to build friendships?
I haven't thought much about it, I guess I'm still finding my way into the blogging world. What happens, happens ..

5. How would you describe your writing style?
Umm... poetry, essay style or just conversational. I'm not much into factual reporting, at school I always preferred creative writing to the "write a report about the excursion" type of stuff. Anyway, that's my take ..

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chronological murder?

Henry David Thoreau: "You cannot kill time without wounding eternity."

Hmm .. how often am I guilty of misusing the gift of my days? I do not believe that rest is wasteful, or necessary self-care, or decent entertainment -- we do not always have to be solemn and dull (and I like my share of fun, a good novel or a decent DVD, say a British detective series) But there are things that waste time -- self-pity (as opposed to grief -- grief processes the pain, self-pity wallows), empty social gestures, unproductive boredom ... I guess the starting point is to really believe that this life of mine, despite certain aspects, is God's good gift to me, not an empty burden. ..

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Survey about me

Nick Name: blestpickle
Birthday: 1954
Birth State: New South Wales
Current Location: in front of the computer of course (in our green-and-brown study)
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Dark Brown (I will NOT surrender to grey)
Height: 169cm
Righty or Lefty: utterly right-handed
Your Heritage: English, Scottish, a little French and Irish, about 6th generation Aussie in the male line
The Shoes You Wore Today: black leather (hey, it's winter here)
Your Weakness: Chocolate? could that possibly be a weakness? More seriously, I'm too much of a softy and let people manipulate me (but I'm learning) I suppose a problem back, and a propensity for migraines count as weaknesses too ..
Your Fears: Abandonment and loneliness are biggies (from my abusive childhood) failure (I'm working on that one) getting lost (I have NO sense of direction!).
Your Perfect Pizza: Not a big pizza eater but I do like our local place's specialty:egg, garlic, capsicum and cabanossi
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year: umm .. pass next semester at college without too much stress?
Your Most Overused Phrase : Men!!! (or "I'm coming soon")
Your Best Physical Feature: I think my skin, A says my smile
Your Bedtime: 10:30 to 11. always a trade off with my "lark" husband (hence the "I'm coming soon")
Your Most Missed Memory: Probably that I'd spent more time with my grandparents, learned some family history
:Pepsi or Coke: Neither. Diet coke if I have to, but I'd really rather have water or mineral water.
McDonalds or Burger King: Neither. I really prefer home cooked (what we mainly live on) or good restaurant food.
Shoes or Bare feet: Bare feet most of the year, except when it's too cold. Shoes are things you put on to be respectable when you go out.
Favorite Place on Earth: Home. Runners up are tasmania, New zealand and far North queensland (common denominator, they're all really green. Maybe you have to be an Aussie to appreciate that
Chocolate or Vanilla: Chocolate!!!!
Do you Smoke: never ever. Am very allergic to cigarette smoke
Do you Swear: Nothing stronger than damn
Do you Sing: Yes, but no public solos!
Have you ever Been in Love: Yes, and not just romantically
Do you want to go to College: Yep. Started back at age 47 and it's one of the best things I've ever done
Have you ever been Married: Yes. Still. (29 1/2 years)
Do you believe in yourself: Not nearly as much as I believe in God.
Do you get Motion Sickness:' Sometimes in cars. Never seasick
Are you a Health Freak: LOL! Not with my freaking health! I'm sensible, but not obsessive
Do you get along with your Parents: My mother and I are polite and distant. There's no bond, just an unadmitted history of abuse. I don't tell her anything significant, because I know she isn't trustworthy
Do you like Thunderstorms: Love them! (as long as I'm safely indoors).
Do you play an Instrument: No, never learned. Can pick out tunes one finger by ear
In the past month have you Drunk Alcohol: Yes. normal intake would be one drink once or twice a week
In the past month have you been on Drugs: Only prescription. never had illegal drugs in my life (or wanted to)
How many times in the past month have you been on a Date: Does a 12 day holiday alone with my husband count?
In the past month have you gone to a Mall: Yep. usually a couple of times a week. Otherwise we wouldn't eat (or anything else)
In the past month have you eaten a bag of Oreos: I'm an Aussie. I don't do oreos. Give me tim tams!
.In the past month have you been on Stage: last time I was on stage was in the chorus of Iolanthe in a primary school performance. I would have been 11
In the past month have you gone Skinny Dipping: Never in my life. Nowhere is that private!
Have you ever been Drunk: Never. The most I've ever had is 2-3 drinks in a whole night
How do you want to Die: Peacefully, painlessly
What do you want to be when you Grow Up: wiser
Number of Piercings: 2. 1 in each ear. that's enough!

Via crucis -- seventh posting

It's been a while since I posted an instalment of my long conglomerate poem (the last entry was May 7th) but now that semester end, and then my holiday, are over, I'm back to writing some more of it. Certainly the intervening time has (unfortunately) provided more inspiration to weave into it ..

What do tears do? These tears
These silent tears?

Do they tear wide a path
To the overwhelming weeping,
the sea around the gold heart of the world?

Or are they merely drowning place for me?

Does silence heal? Will ignorance make gone
The long offence? Is everything made well
By sleight of mind, (not spoken won’t exist),
Or does captivity in darkness dwell?

I have been long the prisoner of your lies
(Unspoken lies, which therefore were not said)
The vast untruth of all your love for me:
The corpse-embrace that left me nearly dead.

These silken shackles chafed me to the bone,
Yet were your gift: how, then, could I not wear?
It seemed ingratitude so bleak and black:
You were so generous to bend and share!

Yes, as the wolf is generous to the sheep,
Or as pollution, giving to the stream.
I am made less by all you give to me:
In your tight silence, can you hear my scream?

Here, where all promises fail
Here, where all screams are still
Here, where the dust lies thick
Here, where I writhe until ..

Here where I see the lack
Of every trust I tried
Here, where the chasm looms
Despair on either side ..

Here I will wait till night,
Brighter than all dismay
Dawns on the edge of sight:
One promise that will stay ..

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ten random things I believe

1. That if the world ever begins to understand what grace is, the world will be transformed
2. That the world really is charged with the glory of God, a slightly battered chalice holding His beauty (thank you N T Wright and G M Hopkins)
3. That prayer, laughter, hugs and chocolate are powerful tools of healing
4. most politicians are self-serving
5. That being a woman does not make me inferior to males in any way shape or form. God did not make woman to be man's subordinate, but his equal and counterpart
6. Life is for living, not conforming
7 sometimes dancing in the rain is the wisest thing a person can do
8. Because Jesus died and rose again, everything worthwhile becomes possible
9. eat dessert whenever possible, tomorrow mightn't come
10. Only those who kneel to serve the smallest can rise to fly among the stars

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Groaning is the postage

A quote from Andrew Osenga:
"And I can feel a prayer rising, and I don't even know the words/Still the groaning is the postage, and it will not be returned/Though we're living in this rubble of our reckless plans and games/We are reaching for the promise that we will not stay the same."

I'd like to put that alongside something I heard in N T Wright (my summary of what I heard) : that when we, as individual Christians, or as the church, or part of the church, find ourselves standing at the struggle-point of pain over some difficult issue, it is not necessarily that we have done anything wrong to be there (the New Testament never promises that the existence of the righteous will be pain free) but that, in our standing there, struggling, in prayer to hold heaven and earth together at this point, the Holy spirit is groaning through us into this situation ....

My take? (at this moment) the groaning is part of the prayer, is part of our participation in redemption, both the transformation of ourselves and the healing of our world (and often of the church) as the New Creation breaks in upon the old, and the old wineskins are split apart by the pressure of the new wine of the kingdom (and how much of who I am is still an old wineskin?)
We pray "Your kingdom come", then we blame ourselves because the labour pains of its coming hurt us. It is not just "out there" that we pray to be changed, we who have tasted our own brokenness know that weare also praying "Your kingdom come in me". But have we realised that it also contains the prayer "Your kingdom come through me?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I'm back!

After nearly two weeks travelling around northern NSW and southern Qld (as far as Hervey bay) I am back! There will lots of photos to follow in due course, after i'v caught up with the laundry, prepared a sermon for Sunday (on the Lord's prayer, looking it from the angle of how does it answer the question "Teach us to pray") but, for now, a few random thoughts ..

Seen (in Toowoomba I think) a sign saying "Heritage funerals" From the stylised sign and old style building i gather they meant traditional style, but the name sounded awfully close to Inheritance funerals to me. Don't people think??

Late yesterday afternoon we were in a place called North Haven, an incredibly tranquil place where a river runs out to the sea. no one around but a few old fishermen. We sat on a bench in a park just across from our motel, and there, in front of us in the river, a dolphin was cavorting! (actually, I think dolphins are dancing for joy in the water!) That's the first time in my life I've ever seen a wild dolphin from the land!

Spent some travel time listening to cds of NT Wright giving talks on the significance of the resurrection. Here is a theologian who speaks my language! Essentially he is sayingthat the resurrection is not a prooftext of biblical authority, or the thing that shows the deity of Jesus (yes to these, but they are not what it was for). The resurrection is the firstfruits of the New creation which God is bringing into being, and which will come in fully when Jesus returns. most pagans believed in some sort of afterlife, the christian distinctive is to believe in the resurrection of the BODY! (something we often shy away from and over-spiritualise) Because of New Creation, what we do in this world matters -- beauty, art, poetry, social justice, right relationships, taking proper care of our world etc etc. This (from a pickle's point of view) is good, life-giving theology!