Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Notes on a Wine-Tasting: a sermon (John 2: 1 – 11)

I often enjoy visiting a vineyard: driving on the scenic road past the rows of grapevines; arriving at the cellar door; tasting the vineyard’s wares; and then buying a bottle or two.   

But one thing I can’t bring myself to do during the tasting at the cellar door is to in any way insult the wine, even on those rare occasions when the wine deserves to be insulted. Particularly at a smaller vineyard, I usually assume that the person running the tasting room is most likely related somehow to the person who makes the wine, so I’m usually very polite about the wine. 

Even if the bouquet has the subtle undertones of old socks, or even the not-so-subtle overtones of disinfectant, I don’t say so.  I like to think I’m too kind to say so.  I fear I’m really too much of a coward to say so.

Someone who really knew how to insult a bottle of wine was Horace Rumpole.  Some of us will remember “Rumpole of the Bailey”, the TV series in which the late Leo McKern played the London barrister and sleuth Horace Rumpole.  Rumpole was never averse to a drop of wine - preferably red - but, by his own admission, he usually couldn’t afford the good stuff (a bit like me, really).  Rumpole often referred to the wine he drank by such uncomplimentary references as “cooking claret”.

Such was the opposite of the problem faced by the head caterer at the wedding Jesus attended in our gospel lesson today.  Instead, he had to approach the bridegroom and enquire why he left the really good wine for so late a point in the reception.  He may have learned at catering school that the good wine ... the vintage stuff ... the wine with the snob labels ... the expensive stuff ... that gets served first.    The cheaper wine, the chateau cardboard, the “cooking claret”, the stuff that’s well on its way to becoming salad dressing:  that wine is served later, when the guests’ taste buds have become more ... well ... tolerant.

You’ve heard the story.  Jesus and his disciples were invited to attend a wedding at a town called Cana, in Galilee.  Mary was also there.  The wine ran out. 

Mary asked Jesus if he could do something about the wine situation.  A few harsh words passed between mother and son.  (What’s a wedding without a memorable family argument?)  But eventually, Jesus being a good Jewish boy, he did what Mary asked. 

There were these six big stone jars filled with twenty to thirty gallons of water ... each.  They were there for various Jewish purification rituals ... ritual baths for various purposes and so on.  Jesus told the head caterer to draw off some of the water and taste it. 

The caterer tasted the wine, and he was impressed.  This was good wine . . . really good wine.  From there, we have his comment to the confused bridegroom about serving the good wine first and, only after the good wine is finished, does the host then break out the “cooking claret”.

Both the first and the last of Jesus’ miracles are found only in John’s gospel. 

·        The Cana miracle, with the water becoming wine, traditionally regarded as Jesus’ first, is only found in John. 

·        So also is the raising of Lazarus, at Bethany, traditionally regarded as the last of Jesus’ miracles before the crucifixion. 

However historical or however otherwise you want to regard these stories, both have an important place in John’s version of the gospel narrative. 

·        The Cana miracle is seen as setting the stage for Jesus’ public life.  John speaks of this event being the first of Jesus’ public signs, which “revealed his glory”.

·        The raising of Lazarus at Bethany is seen as setting the stage for conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities, which then in turn led to the final, fatal conflict between Jesus and the Roman political and military authorities.

As well, I believe both of these miracle stories are important for our life of faith.

·        The Bethany miracle speaks of Jesus’ triumph over death, a triumph which is later confirmed at Easter.  It communicates God’s promise of a future resurrection life, a life which is not confined by the boundaries set by physical death.

·        The Cana miracle speaks of Jesus’ call to a life marked by joy, not only in the life of the world to come, but in the life we live here and now.  It communicates God’s promise of a present resurrection life, a life which is lived joyfully and with celebration. 

As with many of the miracles in the gospels,

·        I have an open mind as to whether Jesus’ miracle at Cana happened as it was written or was essentially a metaphor for a wider truth;

·        I also have an open mind as to whether Jesus’ miracle at Bethany happened as it was written or was essentially a metaphor for a wider truth.

But still, in both cases, I passionately hope that both miracles happened as recorded, much more passionately (I must admit) than I do with many of the other miracles. 

But then again, even if (as I suspect) these stories are essentially metaphors, they speak a word of truth that goes far beyond mere factuality (as do many other stories in the scriptures).  Both the Cana and Bethany miracles speak of the life to which Jesus calls us:

·        a future life that is not confined by the boundaries of physical death;

·        a present life that is lived joyfully and with celebration.

In both cases, Christ promises us that he will be uncorking, not the “cooking claret”, but wine of a good vintage, wine of the best vintage possible.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

“Solidarity forever”: a sermon (Matthew 3:13-17)

Comments before the lessons:

Today’s service has the theme of the Baptism of Jesus.  We remember Jesus being baptised by John in the River Jordan.  We give thanks that, by participating in that public act of repentance, Jesus identified with the human condition in all its brokenness.  In this light, my sermon today has the title “Solidarity forever.”

Today’s service is a good chance for us to reflect on the significance of Christian Baptism at a time when we don’t have an actual baptism going on.  This way, we can reflect on the meaning of Baptism without the parents of the child being presented for Baptism thinking we’re having a go at them while they’re a captive audience.


In our gospel lesson today, we hear of the Baptism of Jesus.  Jesus went to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was baptising people.  There, Jesus was baptised by John.  After Jesus was baptised, a voice from the heavens said:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

In our lesson from Matthew’s gospel, there is a brief exchange - perhaps the outline of a much longer argument - between Jesus and John before the baptism.

·        John said, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”

·        Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”

And after that exchange (or the longer argument which it represents), they proceeded with the baptism.

The issue was over what John’s baptism was about.  (And let’s be clear that John’s baptism was different to what the Christian Church does when we baptise.) 

·        The gospels spoke of John’s baptism as a sign of repentance, while, in contrast, the Christian Church sees baptism less as an act of individual repentance and more as an act of identification with Christ, and with the worshipping community.

·        As John’s baptism was associated with repentance, it was an act for adults.  As the Christian Church baptises as an act of entry into a community, most Churches (although not all) baptise children as well as adults (and appropriately so).

·        As John’s baptism was associated with repentance, it was an act for those who had made a radical and often counter-cultural decision about their faith and spirituality.  As the Christian Church baptises as an act of entry into a community, most services of Christian baptism represent (and appropriately so) a far less radical and less counter-cultural step of faith on the part of the candidate or the candidate’s parents.

·        The Christian Church baptises in the name of God as Trinity (and appropriately so), while this language - and the ideas behind it - would have been unknown to John.

So, John’s baptism was not the same thing as what the Christian Church does when it baptises.

As I said, the gospels spoke of John’s baptism as a sign of repentance.  The question that would seem obvious to us may also have occurred to John:  “What, if anything, would Jesus have needed to repent of?”

For us, we have been taught in Sunday Schools and Confirmation Classes, about the perfection and sinlessness of Jesus.  As the old hymn says:

                   A perfect life, of perfect deeds,
                   once to the world was shown.

Obviously John would not have operated from anywhere near so highly developed a theology, but he would also have had some expectations about the Messiah.  As Jesus began to seem more and more like the one who would fit that particular bill, John became understandably reluctant to baptise the person he felt should baptise him.

But still, the baptism took place.  Jesus, the individual least in need of repentance, voluntarily participated in an act of profound repentance, saying “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”

In seeking John’s baptism, Jesus expressed his solidarity - and by extension, God’s solidarity - with the whole flawed human race:

·        in our brokenness,

·        in our disunity,

·        in our alienation,

·        in our sin.

This word “solidarity” may just seem like a bit of jargon to some.  (“Solidarity forever!” as the old protest song goes.)  Or it may remind others of the recent history of Poland.  Despite its jargon-ish sound, it is a useful word:  “solidarity”.  It speaks of a person - or a group - so completely identifying with the needs and aspirations of another person - or another group - that it is as if the two were one.  In a sense, the two are “solid”.  (“Solidarity forever!”) 

This is an extension of the whole message of the incarnation - of Emmanuel - of “God-with-us” - that we celebrated at Christmas.  “... [T]he Word became flesh and lived among us ...”.  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the one living God dwells in our midst.  Our human life is intimately known by God:

·        in its joy and its pain,

·        in its wholeness and its brokenness,

·        in its hope and its despair,

·        in its celebrations and its crises,

·        in its certainties and its paradoxes. 

Our human life is intimately known by God.  (“Solidarity forever!”)

By seeking John’s baptism, a baptism that recognised the reality of our human brokenness, Jesus expressed his solidarity - and God’s solidarity - with all our human condition:

·        not just the noble bits,

·        not just the pretty bits,

·        not just the presentable bits,

·        not just the “religious” bits,

but the full monty, brokenness and all.  (“Solidarity forever!”)

And Jesus, who was baptised in solidarity with our human brokenness, calls the Church - calls us – all of us as a community and each of us individually - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with all God’s world.

·        The Baptised Christ calls us – those of us who are comfortable and well-fed - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the poor, the hungry, and the homeless; with the indigenous people of this land and with those who seek a safe home within our shores.

·        The Baptised Christ calls us – those of us who are healthy - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the disabled, the addicted, and those suffering from diseases, whether physical or psychiatric, whose very names frighten us.

·        The Baptised Christ calls us - we who honestly seek to be people of ethical integrity - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with the moral failures of our society.

·        The Baptised Christ calls us - we who seek to be people of authentic faith - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with those who find it difficult to have faith . . . and with those who find it difficult to put the faith they have into any meaningful level of practice.

·        And I also believe that the Baptised Christ calls us - we who place our faith and our confidence in the living God who reveals Godself in Jesus - to live in solidarity and in fellowship with those who place their faith and confidence in the same living God ... but who name that God with other names.

Jesus sought out John and asked him for baptism.  In so doing, he expressed the solidarity of the divine wholeness with our human brokenness.  He calls us, as people who have glimpsed his light, to continue to express - on his behalf - his solidarity with the world he has so completely embraced.  (“Solidarity forever!”)

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

"Don't stand in the doorway; don't block up the hall.": a sermon

For those from a Methodist background, the annual Covenant Service, normally held early in the year, is a significant occasion of faith renewal.  

As I was preparing a Covenant Service for another congregation a few years ago, I felt it was appropriate to "tweak" the language of the service somewhat, for two main reasons:
  • One reason was to underscore the fact that, in the Uniting Church and in many other denominations, we have come to believe that the relationship God has had with the Jews since well before the emergence of Christianity is still an active and vital one.  Our covenant with God as Christians should never be a denial of the covenant which Jews continue to enjoy with God.
  • The other reason was to deal with a word whose meaning has changed radically since the days when John Wesley first led a congregation in renewing their covenant.

The word was "to suffer", as in Wesley's phrase "Put me to doing; put me to suffering."

The way we use the word "suffer" now means to experience pain.  Now, there are some religious people who believe that God causes us to suffer, whether as some sort of punishment, or as some sort of test, or to teach us some sort of cruel "lesson".  While some people on the fringe of Christian faith believe this, and while some people in the churches believe it, no mainstream Christian church teaches this. 

Many people outside the churches, in the wider community, are under the impression that we believe this, however.  In fact, in my experience, it's this false impression - the notion that Christians believe God is the source of human suffering - that's one of the really, really big reasons why you'll find people who grow up as part of families of worshipping, committed Christians who then later opt to become convinced, committed, angry and aggressive atheists in adulthood. 

In Wesley's time, and in earlier centuries, alongside our current meaning of "suffering" was another meaning.  The word "to suffer" meant "to allow" or "to let".  So, for example, the translators of the old King James Bible (about a century-and-a-half before Wesley's day) translated the Greek of the gospels so that Jesus was quoted in English saying "Suffer the little children to come unto me."  What he was saying was "Allow the children to come"... "Let the kids meet me".

So what I've done was to paraphrase Wesley's words "Put me to doing; put me to suffering" so that they say "Enable me to make things happen; enable me to let things happen", so as to minimise the confusion.  The Richard Dawkinses and other "secular fundamentalists" of this world have enough ammunition without our adding to it.

And let me say that the art of letting things happen can be a profound ministry.  In both the church and the wider community, there are times when we need to allow something positive to happen even it's not our first choice (or second, or third, or fourth, or even our eighteenth choice) as a way forward.  Sometimes, we need to cultivate the fine art of letting things happen.   

In the Christian church in our own day, the mentality of "Over my dead body!" has proved fatal for many congregations.  If you remember the TV comedy "The Vicar of Dibley", the character of David Horton, played by Gary Waldhorn, was an exemplar of the "Over my dead body!" mentality:  "A female vicar:  over my dead body! ... Blessing animals in church:  over my dead body!"  In many ways, one of the main story arcs of "The Vicar of Dibley" over a number of seasons was David's transformation from an exemplar of the "Over my dead body!" mentality to something far more positive. 

The singer-songwriter Bob Dylan said something similar in his song "The Times They Are a-changing":

"Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call,
Don't stand in the doorway; don't block up the hall."

"For the times, they are a-changing!"

And now, having referenced John Wesley, Richard Dawkins, "The Vicar of Dibley", and Bob Dylan in the same sermon, I think I'll quit while I'm ahead and remind us that when, in a few minutes, we pray "Enable me to make things happen; enable me to let things happen," we're praying that God will lead us to reject the whole destructive attitude of "Over my dead body!"

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Book review: “In His Own Strange Way” by Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson, “In His Own Strange Way”: A Post-Christendom Sort-of Commentary on the Basis of Union, 2018:  MediaCom Education.

Reviewed by Bob Faser.

I need to make one admission at the outset.  When I was asked to review this book, my initial thought was “But hasn’t the Basis of Union been done to death already?” 

However, by writing this book, Geoff Thompson has provided the Uniting Church with a strong resource for ministry, for three compelling reasons.

The first reason is that Thompson prefers to allow the Basis of Union to speak to us on its own terms, rather than placing the Basis into any particular doctrinal straitjacket, whether “evangelical”, “progressive”, “neo-orthodox”, or any other.

The second reason is in the description of this book as “Post-Christendom”.   This study takes seriously the fact that the relationship between the Christian churches and the broader society, both in Australia and in other western nations, has changed radically in the decades since the Basis of Union was written and the UCA was inaugurated.

The third reason is in the fact that this study is structured in sixteen segments that can be used for group sessions.  Each session contains a brief commentary on the relevant section of the Basis of Union, brief statements on how our “Post-Christendom” situation relates to the particular section of the Basis, discussion questions, and relevant passages of scripture. 

This book looks like a good starting point for reflection by a more ambitious adult study group in a local congregation, one which wants to spend an extended time with a single resource.  It would also work well with a group of Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Pastors, and Chaplains in a local area wanting some sustained opportunity for group theological reflection.  If a group such as this exists in your congregation or presbytery, this may be the resource for them.  In either case, competent group leadership is essential as this is not a pre-packaged small-group study.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

On the Sunday after Christmas, the Lectionary gave to me ... forty-two blokes a-begetting, ... five feisty females, ... and a passage we ignored in Seminary: a sermon (Matthew 1:1-17)

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever preached on today’s gospel lesson.  Normally, I use the three-year Revised Common Lectionary when I preach.  Today’s lesson, from the Narrative Lectionary, doesn’t appear in the three-year lectionary on any Sunday.

The only times I ever use the Narrative Lectionary for preaching are those occasional Sundays when I lead worship here at Hobart North. 

It’s the passage that, in theological seminary, we called (using a bit of King James-ish terminology) “the begats”. (“Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob,” and so on and so on.)  And there was a whole lot of begatting going on.  (Or, rather, there was “a whole lot of begetting”.  It was one of those irregular verbs:  beget, begat, begotten.)  Anyway, the passages of scripture with all the “begats” were passages I never really studied as a theological student, and neither did most of my colleagues.

But, in the midst of all these men with polysyllabic names (from Aminadad to Zerubbabel) all begetting like crazy, it now seems (according to a growing number of New Testament scholars today) that the real meaning of this passage is found, not so much in the forty-two men begetting with enthusiasm, but in the five women who are also mentioned in the passage.

As a result, I gave my sermon a title which I think is best sung:   “On the Sunday after Christmas, the lectionary gave to me: … forty-two blokes a-begetting, … five feisty females, … and a passage we ignored in Seminary.”

Two gospels give us a genealogy of Jesus, near or at the beginning of the gospel, Matthew and Luke.  While there are a number of differences in detail between the genealogies, there are two big differences between these two genealogies:

  • The first difference is that Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham, while Luke’s genealogy goes back to the dawning of human life.
  • The second difference is that the genealogy found in Luke is an all-male list, while Matthew’s version mentions five very significant women.

These differences can both be seen as a result of the different cultural contexts of these gospels.  Matthew wrote his gospel for a congregation with a background in Jewish faith and culture, while Luke wrote for a congregation of Graeco-Roman gentiles.

  • Matthew wanted to demonstrate that Jesus lived within the context of Abraham obeying the command of God to venture out into the desert with the message of God’s call to faith.  Luke wanted to put Jesus into a more universal context of the life of the whole human race.
  • Luke’s readers, though, were Graeco-Roman sexists who were not terribly interested in the accomplishments of women.  On the other hand, Matthew’s readers came from a Jewish background and honoured those feisty women who, throughout the history of their people, stepped up to the plate and did God’s thing, particularly at times when their menfolk were faltering.

Increasingly, many New Testament scholars today – of a variety of denominations, and of both genders - say that the real key to the meaning of Matthew’s version of Jesus’s genealogy is found in these five women.

Anyway, let’s have a quick look at the “five feisty females” mentioned by Matthew.

Tamar provided an example in the scriptures of what we, in recent months, could call a “Me Too” moment.  She had experienced incest, and it took place as part of a complicated story.  She nearly was put to death because of her irregular pregnancy, but talked her way out of it in a way that led the man who caused her pregnancy to admit his own fault.

Then there’s Rahab.  She was a prostitute, probably the “madam” of her brothel.  She wasn’t Jewish herself, but a citizen of Jericho.  She hid the spies sent by Joshua to check out the land, and lied about it when the authorities came looking for them.  There’s no two ways about it.  Rahab served God by betraying her country.

Like Rahab, Ruth was also foreign.  She was an immigrant, one of that great class of people whom the less salubrious sort of politicians today, those who inhabit the sordid underbelly of politics, like to condemn, without looking at their solid contributions to society.  The story of the romance of Ruth and Boaz (Rahab’s son, according to Matthew) became the great “romcom” of the Old Testament.  Ruth herself became the great-grandmother of King David. 

Speaking of David, we then come to Bathsheba, who isn’t mentioned here by name but is merely called “the wife of Uriah”.  This is another “Me, Too” moment in the genealogy of Jesus.  The rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah definitely constituted the ethical low point of David’s reign.  And, morally, it was rape.  What with David being a king, Bathsheba would not have had the power to consent or not to consent.   It was a definite “Me, Too” moment.

And then we come to Mary, who is really much more interesting than the demure young woman in the blue dress whom we see in statues, paintings, icons, and nativity sets.  When she reflected on the significance of the child whom she was to bear, she celebrated the idea of the powerful being brought down from their thrones and the lowly being lifted up, of the hungry being filled with good things and the rich being sent away empty.  This was one radical lady.  As they say on the TV talk shows, “You go, girl!”

And the birth of Jesus took place in the context of the lives of these “five feisty females”, just as much as it did in that of the “forty-two blokes a-begetting”.  And many scholars today believe the “five feisty females” are the real key to understanding why this list of polysyllabic names is found in the gospel, more than as an endurance test for people who read lessons in worship.

Anyway, what takeaways can we find from the “five feisty females” in Jesus’s genealogy, according to today’s gospel?

The first is this:   We find God in the presence of those whom our society and culture despises.

The second is this:   We find God in the presence of those who choose to live with courage and compassion.

I’ll repeat that.  It’s important.

We find God in the presence of those whom our society and culture despises.

We find God in the presence of those who choose to live with courage and compassion.

“On the Sunday after Christmas, the lectionary gave to me: … forty-two blokes a-begetting, … five feisty females, … and a passage we ignored in Seminary.”

Friday, 21 December 2018

"Baby, It's Cold Outside!": a cultural and ethical reflection

This month, there's been some controversy in North America over a song.  A number of radio stations in the USA and Canada have been removing the song "Baby, I's Cold Outside" from their playlists over the Christmas holiday season, given concerns that the song depicts a seduction that may not be 100% on the part of the woman in the encounter.  The controversy over the song follows many of the concerns of the "Me Too" movement, following the revelations concerning sexual harassment and, at times, actual sexual assault by a number of high-profile figures in business, politics, entertainment, and the law.

Anyway, the song was removed from the playlists of a few radio stations, and the strident response from some political and cultural ultra-conservatives was predictable.  (Can one of you gentlemen please inform me which amendment protects the "right of seduction"???) 

Part of me is actually rather surprised that the inhabitant of the Oval Office has not yet entered the fray on this one, describing (for example) "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as one of his "favourite Christmas carols" in a similar way as he once described "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" as his "favourite Bible verse".

It's all complicated by the fact that the song, in recent years, has become associated with the Christmas holiday season, even though the song doesn't mention Christmas (or, for that matter, any other holiday).  Because the song is set in the winter, when "... it's cold outside", it's become a song that's played a lot in the lead-up to Christmas, and then disappears from the airwaves even though (in North America) winter continues (and, in many areas, intensifies) during the months following Christmas.  (It's even funnier here in Australia, where it's played during the lead-up to Christmas in early summer.) 

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" isn't alone here.  Other songs with a generically winter theme which are almost exclusively associated with Christmas, even though they never mention Christmas in the actual song, include "Let it Snow!  Let it SnowLet it Snow!", "Sleigh Ride", "Winter Wonderland", and even "Jingle Bells".

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was never intended to be a song for the Christmas holidays.  The Broadway songwriter Frank Loesser (best known for "Guys and Dolls") wrote the song in the mid-1940s as a party piece for himself and his wife, the singer Lynn Garland.  In this piece, the sleaziness and sliminess of the man, and the naivete of the woman, were exaggerated for comic effect.  One factor in the comic effect of the song as a party piece in its early years was that the people hearing this song were well-aware that the two participants in that mock seduction scene were, in fact, a married couple.  A few years later, Loesser sold the song to a Hollywood studio for use in a film and it became a popular "lounge" standard, rather than merely the Loessers' party piece.

Once "Baby, It's Cold Outside" entered the public zone, rather than the social zone of the Loessers and their friends at private cocktail hours and dinner parties, the potential creepiness of the song began to speak for itself.

Contrast "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with another song from the mid-'40s with a generic winter theme, but which has also become a Christmas season standard, Sammy Cahn and Jule Stynes's "Let it Snow!  Let it SnowLet it Snow!"   The "Baby, It's Cold Outside" guy is definitely trying to manipulate the young lady into bed, while the "Let it Snow!  Let it SnowLet it Snow!" guy is far more of a gentleman, knowing that he and his girlfriend will not be spending the night together but, instead, realises that "... all the way home, I'll be warm."

All of this points to changing moral standards within our community.  In some ways, our moral standards have become more flexible since the days of my youth (and I happen to be a proud "Baby Boomer"), while in other ways, our standards have become far less flexible.

Ways in which our community moral standards have become more accepting and flexible since my own "Baby Boomer" youth include:
  • a greater acceptance of LGBT people, 
  • a greater acceptance of unmarried couples cohabiting, and of single parents,
  • a greater acceptance of couples, married or otherwise, of different racial, religious, or cultural backgrounds.
My response to these social changes is, simply:  "Brilliant!"

Ways in which our community moral standards have become more demanding include:
  • far less tolerance regarding adults sexually preying on underage people (with this change of values reflected in a number of high-profile court cases in a number of countries, some of which are still sub judice, so I'll say no more),  
  • far less tolerance of married men having a "bit on the side", 
  • far less tolerance of men seducing women who are not completely enthusiastic re the arrangement (even when the seduction falls short of actual rape or sexual assault), as illustrated in "Baby, It's Cold Outside".
My response to these social changes also is, simply:  "Brilliant!"

I believe that both sets of changes in values are definite improvements for the well-being of our culture.  The relaxation within some attitudes is very good.  The tightening up within other attitudes is equally good.

I'm not a fan of censorship, but I realise there's a significant difference between censorship and quality control.  If a radio station removes "Baby, It's Cold Outside", with its tale of a clumsy, ham-fisted seduction, from its December playlist, I believe it's less of an act of censorship than it is an act of quality control. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Christmas with the “Caganer”

Being a self-confessed “Christmas nerd”, it isn’t every day I learn a new fact about Christmas.  I learned a new Christmas fact a few weeks ago watching a TV panel quiz on the ABC.
In many places in Europe, public Nativity Scenes are large, involving an army of shepherds, a huge choir of angels, many hangers-on in the Wise Men’s entourage, multiple guests eating and drinking in the inn, and a variety of people working on nearby farms.  In many areas of Spain, there is also a figure of a man in an obscure corner of the Nativity Scene engaged in relieving himself.  This figure is called a “caganer”.
I’d never heard of the “caganer” until a few weeks ago.  I checked the facts.  I didn’t just trust the TV presenters, even if the programme was initially shown on the highly salubrious and reliable BBC.  I consulted with that noted authority on all things factual, Professor Google.  It checked out.  It wasn’t “Fake News” (as the man with the funny comb-over says).
In many Spanish communities, the “caganer” helps to engage the interest of children in the Nativity Scene, as they try to find the hidden and obscure “caganer” in a “Where’s Wally?” sort of way.  

Theologically, the “caganer” has an important and profound message for us.  When God chose to come into our world as a human being, the Christ-child was born into the midst of our real world, not in some artificial, prettied-up, Disney-style world.  The “caganer” attending to an urgent call of nature at the same moment when the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us bears testimony to this. 

Have a Bless├ęd Christ-Mass, a Merry Christmas, and some Happy Holidays.

The Word has become Flesh, and lives in our midst.

Have a good one!