Wednesday, June 30, 2010


We have a confirmation at the cathedral this Sunday; 13 young people of varying ages making the extraordinary commitments that we undertake at this time. This crazy thing that we call the journey of faith, The Way, the Christian life - and doubtless other names as well. Someone asked me, 'Do you think they are up for it?'. In a word, the question was did I think they knew enough and believe they were sincere enough to be confirmed?

I suppose the expected Anglican response would be 'Yes and No' but I simply said 'yes' to both.

My reason is quite simple: who ever knows enough to start the journey and whoever in their heart of hearts can claim sufficient sincerity? For me it seems enough simply that they desire to be confirmed. Some appear to have engaged with the course more than others, that's for certain, but confirmation is not an exam with a diploma or badge at the end. I think its often more like a journey that we start (though we may not always quite know why) and, had we the luxury of hindsight, might have chosen to pack and prepare quite differently; nonetheless God is good and we find things along the way.

For me the most important thing is the sense of the church community that nurtures and encourages the candidates along the way. I am so grateful for the different clergy and laity who have shared their faith and their sense of being Anglican. I think that's the heart of it. One's understanding of faith may change, expand, metamorphose in strange and even exotic ways, but being part of a church community and a vast and diverse tradition earths and enriches us immeasurably. It endures.

The clever and wise Richard Giles picks some of this up when he also thinks of confirmation as a journey. He writes:
'You will find the immigration officials at the frontier into this new century kindness itself. They will not glower at you as they compare you with that ridiculous passport photograph, nor will they interrogate you, or try to catch you out, or demand that you open your suitcase. on the whole we are fairly laid back about instruction courses - a few chats with the parish priest is sometimes all that you will get - but we have no intention of being made to feel inadequate on this score. We believe that Christian initiation is 90% incorporation and 10% indoctrination. We know that we can offer real community, intimate and demanding, where the Risen Lord is encountered, not just in the breaking of bread, but in the coffee hour and at the soup kitchen, in the prayer group and at the local hospital, in the neighbourhood clean-up or at the peace vigil...' ( from How to be an Anglican, p.134)


Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Not a religious man'

Last week the office mail brought me a copy of the University of Otago Magazine - always a good read and a very honourable Otago publication. It featured an engaging article on Professor Alan Musgrave, a great Dunedin identity noted for his work in the philosophy and history of science. The writer wrapped up the article noting as follows:

'Unsurprisingly, Musgrave is not a religious man. He read the Bible once, when he was a teenager, and found it to be a "tissue of contradictions". Religion, he suspects, is a manifestation of our need for absolute certainty. Or perhaps, as Australian philosopher David Stove said, we invent Gods who care about us to try to satisfy our insatiable need for attention.'

Now I found myself quite gob-smacked at the naivety of these remarks - and I don't think this is about Musgrave but more about a very common mind set. Just begin with the bible itself - if one does not see contradictions in the bible, then one is simply being stupid. A collection of works, of differing literary types, written across a huge time span by different 'authors' and in different contexts is bound to produce contradictions - different points of view. The problem would be if the bible had no contradictions and was a seamless text - that would be truly sinister and open to suspicions of conspiracy.

By the same token, I cannot think of any great theologian or any mystic who would lay claim to absolute certainty in matters of faith - faith and certainty really don't sit easily together. In fact faith's typical way of being is to embrace uncertainty and hold oneself attentive before the darkness of God. That is a radical way of being in the world and has absolutely nothing to do with 'our insatiable need for attention'.

Am I being grumpy?