I just want to warn that this post talks (briefly) about clergy sexual abuse.
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Maybe one way you can tell Jesus was really a construction worker is that he apparently made a joke about an industrial accident: You’re worried because you think your neighbour has a splinter in their eye, but you’ve got a construction beam coming out of your head! Who’s got the real problem?
We were talking about this confronting parable on Saturday at a meeting about how people of faith can promote the ‘yes’ vote in Australia’s upcoming survey on marriage equality. The parable is a darkly humorous way of talking about the hypocrisy of deeply immoral people attempting to ‘correct’ others.
I think what is really tragic is that many Christians don’t realise that in our wider society we have lost all credibility on morality – particularly with regards to sexual ethics. Christian clergy in Australia have sexually abused children and the church institution has tried to cover up the abuse. This leaves us with no credibility in the wider community if we try to say that two adults in an equal and loving relationship shouldn’t be able to get married.
This week census data was released. In the lead up to the census there was a big campaign encouraging folks to tick ‘no religion’. There was also a counter-campaign from some Christian groups desperately encouraging folks who were undecided to tick ‘Christian’, so that Australia wouldn’t become a Muslim country.
The data’s come back, and it looks like about half of Australians still identitfy as Christian. However, those who ticked ‘no religion’ were larger than any of the Christian denominations.
I don’t think it should be any surprise that all the churches are in decline. I also don’t think this is something Christians should be afraid of. Out of all the religions, we should be least afraid of death. Death and resurrection is what Christianity is all about. If the church dies, who knows what will come next?
Painting: Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood. John Singer Sargent. 1885.
This week I’m doing some work with Murrumbeena Baptist Church. We’re going to be having a look at some gospel stories in their neighbourhood. We’ll be seeing how the neighbourhood and gospel might interact in dialogue.
In preparation I’ve been doing some research on the neighbourhood. That’s included walking around the neighbourhood with Asher and Carly, who are part of that church. We’ve talked about what we already know about the neighbourhood. I’ve also spent some time at the State Library doing research.
I think one of the interesting things about the neighbourhood has been the story of the Boyd family, who were residents of Murrumbeena. The painter and sculptor Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd is probably the most famous member of the family, but he was actually part of a large family of painters and sculptors.
Arthur Merric Boyd’s grandparents, Arthur and Minnie Boyd, were what was called en plein air painters. That means that instead of painting inside a studio using rigid, academic rules of composition, they went outside into the natural light of the wider world. Their aim was to paint the world as they saw it, and not let artistic conventions warp their depictions of the world.
I think the church needs its own en plein air movement. What if we did theology en plein air? What if we did our Bible reading en plein air? If we stay inside when we read and reflect, I think there is a danger that’s our theology and and the story we live out of has no connection with the very real place we’re situated in. There’s a lot we can miss if we keep our reading of the Bible inside private or sacred spaces like our homes and our churches. So this week I am looking forward to reading the Bible en plein air with some of the locals in Murrumbeena.