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Winter Soup

July 8, 2007

Glynn Cardy

Pentecost 6     Luke 10:1-12, 16-20


Winter has arrived with gusto. The chill has descended and its time to go inside, to light the fire and thaw out. It is time to reflect and contemplate, and to rekindle our hope.


In the mistaken belief that miracles are instantaneous it is tempting to skip from cross to resurrection and miss out all the hard work in-between. Resurrection is that journey of finding hope after pain and loss. It is the hard work of winter.


Of course many believe that resurrection was something that God or Jesus did. It had nothing to do with us. We just ran away or watched from afar. We were the passive beneficiaries to the collective contract that God had negotiated on our behalf. We just need to subscribe on-line and all will be fine.


The journey to hope though takes more than signing up with a do-it-all saviour. It involves our work and struggle. It involves loneliness and solitude. It involves bad days and good, in season and out.


Bishop J. A. T. Robinson once talked about faith having a firm centre and open edges. The debate that rages across the Anglican world, and even infiltrates my computer, is what constitutes the centre. Some want to put sexuality, morals, and the Bible there.


Maybe it comes with age, but I find that what I want to affirm in the centre is getting less and less. Yet the less and less I am affirming is becoming more and more important, and I more and more strident.


Simply, God is in the centre. Not the full-blown Christian creedal and dogmatic package, but just one word: hospitality. Hospitality summarizes the life of Jesus. It is generous, boundary-breaking, transformative love.


Hospitality is shelter from the storm. It is the place-setting for the stranger. It is the willingness to wait on friend and enemy alike. It is the ego-strength that can tolerate difference and withstand tribalism. It is the surety of being that can embrace the world. It is one of the closest words we have to God.


In my winter recess it is this God who invites me to heat my toes by the fire. This God embraces my humanity. God is the hot broth of my soul’s home.


There is another God though outside. This is a God called authority. It is a colder God with rules and regulations, rights and wrongs. Not everyone gets an invitation with this God, but you know where you are. This God is often personified as a king or judge, but almost never as a waiter or dishwasher. It is a God of certainty, power, and benevolence. Invariably it is male.


The authority God is pictured as a triumvirate of Father, Son and Holy Ghost who together rule the universe. This Trinity of communal subordination and internal praise was complete in its classical form by the 4th century, coinciding with the increasing Imperial benefits the Church was receiving. The holy threesome ruled from the heavens and delegated much of their authority to Caesar on earth. Caesar ruled, the Church legitimated and benefited from his rule, and the poor got more charity and less justice.


The authority God lives on, determining who gets delegated power and who doesn’t. It prides itself on pronouncements, creeds, and liturgies that every follower is meant to conform to. It is intolerant of multiple theological and ethical opinions, let alone plural understandings of God. Ultimately there is only one right faith, one right Church, and one right Lord. Join it, believe it, or else...


In my winter recess this authority God prowls around the exterior of my dwelling seeking to devour all who, like me, differ. But I am not trapped by it, nor afraid. My soul is free. For I have experienced the God called hospitality and I can’t deny it even if I wanted to.


It’s like thinking the whole world speaks English, then travelling abroad and discovering it isn’t so. It is impossible to go back to believing everyone speaks English. Similarly it is impossible to go back to the uniformity of the authority God.


The God called hospitality takes freedom seriously. A table of sumptuous food is laid out and everyone is invited to come. Those who refuse to come aren't judged – they just miss out. Those who gather have differing views and robustly exchange them. Pantheons of Gods dine with their adherents and their critics. Vegans are catered for.


Those who come to the table feel cared for by the company and food, and by the service provided. God though is not the waiter, the chef, or the host. For God is not just another anthropomorphic deity thwarting other contenders for our allegiance. God is simply, cosmically, and prophetically the spirit of hospitality itself.


Unity is not the goal of the gathering, it is occasionally a byproduct. The goal is to offer sustenance, encouragement, laughter, broad vision, and hope to one another, and then go from the feast to live it.


The authority God has a problem with freedom. On the one hand it is the permission given by those with authority to those without. It is akin to saying to a group of children after building a playground and fencing it, "You can now play here". On the other hand, freedom can get out of control. It is the sister of free will and a close cousin to sin. It is akin to the group of children refusing to play in the specially created playground and instead taking their lovers, poems, and laughter and running wild.


There are two words much beloved of the authority God: obedience and unity. Obedience means trusting in the wisdom of your clerical elite, as articulated in creeds and dogmas, and doing as you are told. Individual exploration is tolerated as long as it brings you back to that wisdom. Deviation from that wisdom is sin. Unity is conforming to what has been agreed up by the clerical elite. It is about agreeing on what is central and abstaining from any contentious actions until there is agreement on centrality.


The authority God, whether in the homely dress of the caring father, the wig of the omnipotent judge, or the purple robes and mitre of the unifier, is ultimately concerned about control. ‘As it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever, world without end’.


Though it is often hard to see clearly through dim glass the authority God is losing. The more it shouts, the more strident it becomes, the more I know it is frightened. Sole authority as a doctrine in politics, academia, social theory, or theology can only survive where there is ignorance of the wider world. Immigration, the internet, education, travel… all work against such uniform authority. The world of the authority God is doomed.


The wind has stop blowing, and the rain has eased. As usual the prowling God outside has roared and then slunk off. It doesn’t like it when it doesn’t get attention. Some authorities are like that.


I am obedient to my cup of soup, now my third. The holiness of the warm fire, my vivacious 7 year old who has joined me, and the musings of my mind, feed my soul. I am obedient too to my soul in seeking out life and hope where it can be found. It takes me places where the company is mixed and tainted. Purity never lasts long. In those places that the soul seeks and pilgrims gather, whether on the steps of Parliament, in the grandeur of a holy temple or in the kitchen of a hospitable home, unity can be found. It isn’t planned for. It just happens when that hearty trinitarian broth of compassion, justice, and freedom is stirred and then shared out.


It is peaceful here by the fire. The peace of God has come home in me.

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