Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gratitude, schmatitude

James C. Christensen Ten Lepers
Gratitude, schmatitude. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit over the gratitude industry. Every time I go hunting for a gluten free recipe online, I seem to end up on some kale-and-quinoa-scented mommy blog which is panting with gratitude; and this usually triggers in me a powerful urge to shred a pair of yoga pants then run around shrieking obscenities.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hate mail or a love letter?

From a medieval manuscript. Reproduced at

Lots of my friends don’t go to church. Some never had any experience of it; but many of them have sat through countless services at school or with their families. Yet they have, at some stage, rejected it. There are lots of reasons for this, but one I often hear is ‘hell’. Perhaps my friends could not affirm or even understand justification by grace through faith; perhaps they found it a bit medieval and abstract to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour; perhaps they were same-sex attracted or feminist or having sex without marriage—whatever the sticking point, many of my friends were given to understand that a fiery hell awaits them if they cannot conform to the teachings of some Christians on these and similar things. And having been taught this, the Bible reads to them like hate mail from God.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cheeky Acts of Forgiveness

Dinner with fellow sinners can be delicious!
Once upon a time, the churches were commissioned to go out and participate in the mission of God: to bring good news to the poor, to free the captives, to heal the sick, to forgive debts, and to make disciples. Yet much of the church took this as a mandate to accrue wealth and wield power. Some preachers controlled their flocks through fear; some upheld violent nation-states to their own advantage; some wielded proof texts like a weapon. Some religious leaders took advantage of vulnerable people, while others used their power to cover up their colleagues’ acts of abuse. Churches hoarded riches, and locked them away; denominations invested in corporations that denuded the forests and poisoned the rivers. Some congregations became private clubs, and made anyone who was different feel deeply unwelcome; some became places of such vitriolic hatred that all who came into contact with them were burned.

All these goings-on in God’s name made God feel totally ripped off. So God decided to leave the churches, and let them fend for themselves.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Bogan, A Biddy: Beyond Human Boundaries in the Culture of God

Emmanuel Garibay Emmaus (2010)
So Jesus was at the pub, eating and drinking and talking with whoever turned up. There were gay men and rainbow families; transgender teenagers; women who prioritised work over family life; some sex workers; a couple of drug addicts; more than a few atheists; and some traumatised Muslim asylum seekers. And these people were crowding around and listening to what he had to say.

Just inside the door of the pub, a huddle of priests and ministers and good Christian types stood awkwardly clutching their glasses of warm mineral water and grumbling among themselves. “Who is this feller?” they were asking. “If he keeps hanging around those dodgy people, nobody will take him seriously. And what is he saying? If he’s telling stories like that, maybe he needs to rethink his connection with the church.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bent out of Shape

Image from the website of Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, Boone, NC
A reflection on Luke 13:10-17 and Psalm 71:1-6
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 21 August 2016

When I was in the seventh grade, we all did drama at school. One day, each of us had to walk like somebody else. One girl walked slowly across the room. Her hands were folded in front of her. Her back was curved over, her shoulders were hunched, she stared at the ground as she walked. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. I said something to the kids next to me about how awful it was, and wondered aloud who walked like that. The kids laughed. “Are you joking?” they said, “Don’t you know? Anyone can see that it’s you.”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Duke of Division, or Prince of Peace?

Icon from Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, CA.
Love the icon, but I'm wondering about the eagle. Is it Uncle Sam?
A reflection on Luke 12:49-56
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 14 August 2016

Isn’t it great to be here? Isn’t it a relief to be part of a new congregation with a bunch of people and a pastor who ‘get’ us? Isn’t it wonderful to be at a church that is not like the others? Here, women can claim their authority, and preach. Here, children can move around throughout the service. Here, the furniture is scuffed and wonky and nobody needs to worry about sticky fingers and sand on the floor. Here, we can ask difficult questions and not be censured. Here, people seek to integrate their lives and their faith, and we don’t have too many empty words. We’ve been listening to Jesus, we understand that his ways centre around hospitality, care for the vulnerable and peacemaking, and we’re all on board. Isn’t it great?

But into this lovely peaceful place erupt the words of Jesus: “I did not come to bring peace, but division. From now on, households will be divided, and the people you love will turn against you.” What on earth is Jesus trying to say to us here? Isn’t he supposed to be the Prince of Peace?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Follow your heart?

A reflection on Luke 12:32-40 and Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 7 August 2016

So on Wednesday I was listening to my daughter doing her school reader, a stimulating text called All Fairies Can Fly. In it, a wise old frog tells the sad fairy a widely-held truth. “You know what is right for you,” he says, “just listen to within.” And that, of course, fixed everything.

Follow your heart! Follow your dreams! You know what is right for you! Listen to yourself!

All of us hear these messages every day of the week, in advertising, on Facebook, on tea towels, at school, at work, even, at times, from the pulpit. We live in a society which places enormous trust in the impulses of our hearts. And so we believe that, if we only do what our hearts tell us, if we just tune in to that inner voice, we will find our treasure: satisfaction, well-being, meaning, vocation, whatever. And when we don’t find treasure, when we find ourselves feeling empty and restless and longing for something more, we think it’s because we haven’t listened well enough to our hearts, and we try even harder to tune into our own selves.
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