Sunday, October 22, 2023


An interesting story in the lectionary today. The Pharisees went to Jesus with what they thought was a trick question, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor? (Matthew 22.15-22). Jesus’ response was to show them a coin and ask whose image was on it.  Their reply was “the emperor’s image”, Jesus suggested that they should give to the emperor what was the emperor’s and to God what was God’s. A clever way out of the conversation and one which could lead us into a great discussion on the separation of church and state which exists in the USA. However, I’ll table that for another day.


Today I want to think a little about bias. As I read this story the phrase that really caught my attention was part of the sentence used by the Pharisees when lauding Jesus “…  you do not regard people with partiality” (16). Partiality is usually described as an unfair bias in favour of one thing or person, or as favouritism. 


Clearly, not showing partiality was considered an admirable quality. I wondered what they had seen in Jesus to choose that trait.  


Was it the way women and children were welcomed and included? 

Was it the way rich and poor alike were ministered to?


Recently, I blogged about how a woman showed Jesus that the ministry entrusted to him was open for all not just one group of people.


Certainly, this idea of not showing partiality was picked up by the apostle Paul in the letter to the Galatians. “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female …” (3.29)


This really could become a fascinating debate. From other parts of the scriptures, I could reason that Jesus did show a bias to the poor, those treated unjustly and those hurting. 


Was that partiality? 

Or was it a quest for justice, a championing of those who were on the margins?  

At what point does a quest for justice become partiality?

Sometimes the line between the two seems very faint.


Of course, a starting point for this discussion would be what is meant by fair as partiality is defined as an unfair bias. It is a conversation I had with a class recently. Fair does not mean just being equal. It is far more nuanced and complex than that.


Currently, the world is in a bit of a mess. There are two serious wars being fought and unrest in several other regions. The chasm between right- and left-wing politics seems to be getting wider. Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. have not been eliminated — sometimes I wonder if this hatred of the other is even gaining in intensity in some places. 



 I imagine we want to imitate Jesus and show no partiality. Yet biases are formed from the time we were very young — many of them are unseen. They are formed though our upbringing, education, religious traditions, peers, workplaces, the countries or states we were born in and live in . . . the list could go on and on. At what point do these become unfair biases when thinking through situations and events.


The real need is to recognize our biases (and I find that keeps happening repeatedly as something is said or seen that brings me face-to-face with yet another bias). 


I want to challenge injustices I see. In whatever small way I can, I want to be able to say “this is wrong” without showing partiality.  It is simply wrong because it is wrong!


So, from the lectionary this week a lot to muse over — partiality, bias, fairness and injustice — I hope you’ll join me in pondering on them. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Futility of Violence

The lectionary reading today is another complex parable (Matthew 21:33-46). I have blogged about it before and probably will again in the future — it seems the older I get, the shorter the three-year lectionary cycle seems!

The parable doesn’t make great reading. It is full of violence, hatred, greed, discontentment, disregard for human life and sadness. And with yesterday’s awful attack on Israel I’m sure the futility of violence and the destruction and sadness it brings is in the forefront of many of our prayers. 

The first thing I’m agoing to say about this parable is something many will have heard me say before. It is a drum I keep banging as I think it is important. When reading parables just look for the message being put out there. Resist the temptation to assign roles to the characters. I believe that is always a mistake. If roles are allocated to the various players, then the text often has to be twisted as characteristics that are unfavourable are lauded. 

This particular parable is the story of a person who bought land, fenced it in, built a winepress and a watchtower. After the vineyard was leased to tenants the owner left, probably to continue the business exploits elsewhere. I imagine this was a familiar model to the audience of the time.

Indeed, it is a model that is reflected in contemporary times in big business. Owners have multiple investments, they put managers in to run them and scoop up the profits as a return on their investments. Often with this model of business enormous profits are made while workers toil for a pittance — the lower on the hierarchical chain the workers are the less money is earned. As this parable is explored it is worth thinking through a contemporary example as it helps to ground it. 

Back to the text — in the story when the time of the harvest arrived the landowner sent his slaves to collect the produce. The tenants seized them, stoned them and killed them (35). The story does not reveal why the tenants did not want to turn over the harvest. However it raises a number of questions to which we are given no answer: 

Were they greedy? 

Were they disloyal?

Were they starving or likely to starve through the winter months? 

Were their families starving? 

Did they feel the return on their work was unjust? 

Was the landowner demanding more than agreed?

Why turn on the slaves who were themselves in an unenviable position?

As the story continues a second set of slaves are sent to collect the harvest. The same violent treatment was afforded to them. Finally, the landowner sent their son anticipating (or hoping) that he would be respected. Not so — he also was seized and killed.(39). The landowner would then put the tenants to death and start again with new tenants who hopefully would give them the harvest.

So, I want to return again to why it would be difficult to assign roles in this parable. I have heard the landowner sometimes equated to God. A male God who kept slaves and, possibly, treated the workers unjustly. In addition, God would be portrayed as vengeful thus “putting the wretches to a miserable death” (41). Personally, I don’t think that is an acceptable image of God. Maybe one could argue it is an Old Testament image, but the gospels and epistles have tended to change the image of God from violent to loving, a view which has increased in contemporary times. I don’t want a God whose violent image is affirmed.

Furthermore, roles would then have to be assigned to the tenants, the servants, the son, even the new tenants. The most common interpretation says the tenants are the Sadducees and Pharisees, the servants are the old prophets and the son obviously Jesus. Maybe the new tenants Christians? I would also want to reject this. I dislike the anti-Semitic emphasis it would bring to the text as the tenants killed the slaves and the son. 

So, that leaves me with a story that has no winners, only losers. There is no satisfactory ending. The landowner lost profits, slaves and a son. The slaves and the son lost their lives. The tenants lost their vineyard then their lives. No solution is given in the parable. I don’t have any great interpretation or profound thoughts. Much of it just leaves me feeling it is another unpleasant and disturbing parable. 

I tried reading it from the viewpoint of each of the characters — reading against the grain. As I read it from the tenants’ point of view, I see possible exploitation, injustice, unrest which results in anger and violence in their desire for change. As I read it from the landowner’s point of view, I see also feelings of injustice, of being used, taken for granted, dishonoured, great loss and ultimately wanting to turn to violence. As I read it from the slaves’ point of view, I see victims of a system which disregards their humanity and makes them victims of violence, As I read it from the son’s point of view, I see again injustice and a victim of a parent who cared more for material things than kinship. No winners! 

Perhaps, this is simply a story to illustrate that a time of change was coming. It reflects the unrest and injustices in the society of the day. And change always starts with those who see injustices and are bold enough to stand against them. It has happened with every generation. Hopefully, as this story is read it will show the futility of trying to bring change through violence. With violence there are no winners, only losers.





Sunday, September 24, 2023

Generosity for the Win!

Generosity is one of the values of the Lindisfarne community. The lectionary passage today is all about generosity. In the story (Matthew 20:1-16) a landowner goes out to hire workers to work in the vineyard. 


In that culture, the process was that people who wanted work gathered in the marketplace. Those requiring workers came and hired them. 


Strangely, I can relate. In the village I lived as a teenager we always got “potato-picking” week off school as our autumn half-term. Myself and many other teens worked the week on the farms. Sometimes a job was secured in advance but more often one went and stood at a certain place in the village where the farmers came to pick up teens. I was fortunate, a school friend lived on a farm so I had work with her. It was hard work, a tractor turned the soil and the group of teens followed picking up the potatoes. We did get a break at lunch time where we were fed newly fried chips made from the newly dig potatoes — I can still remember the taste! Then at the end of the day we received our daily pay. 


Of, course, it isn’t really the same at all. We worked to get a bit of extra spending money. For the people in today’s story who were subsistence workers, this work meant the difference between life and death. They needed the money paid to survive, to prevent starvation. It put food into the mouths of their children. These workers were amongst the lowest class in their culture. Being hired daily was the only thing that prevented them from becoming beggars.


The wonderful landowner in today’s tale visited the market place several times, each time hiring additional workers. The last time was only an hour before the end of the work day which would be governed by daylight hours.


As I think about the workers I wonder who was left at the end of the day? I can only surmise that it would be the weaker, possibly infirm people. I assume that when one is choosing workers for physical labor one would look a little at their appearance. Strong, healthy looking people who could do a good day’s work in far from ideal conditions would probably be chosen first. I can imagine those who were left were considered the dregs of society. Yet, they obviously had determination. They wanted to work. There was no other option for them so they waited all day long, hoping for even a little bit of time working.


As often happens in the gospels at this point the story twists and subverts. As we are familiar with the stories, often they are read without any surprise, Yet I suspect these same stories would have sent a ripple of shock through the listeners (or later readers) of the time. A gasp of horror, a feeling of disbelief as something outside the norm was advocated.


At the end of the day all the workers went to receive their pay. Those who had only worked for the last hour went first and received a full day’s pay. Not the one-twelfth which was probably expected. Imagine their delight, they could feed their families. No one would go hungry that day. What a generous landowner!


Each worker in turn received their pay. They all got the same amount. All could eat and survive another day. However, those who had worked a full day grumbled. They thought they should have more. Yet, they had been paid exactly what had been agreed. If they hadn’t seen the generosity of the landowner they would probably have been happy and content with their pay — they weren’t cheated in anyway.



Yet they became jealous of those others. Being jealous is not a pleasant trait. It leaves one feeling all unsettled and sometimes angry. 


It made me ponder lot about the connection between jealousy and generosity. Actually, it is a theme that recurs in a number of gospel stories.  I‘ll be musing on a few questions this week.


I wonder —


Why could these workers not rejoice that all had enough that day — no one went hungry? 

Why is it often so hard to rejoice in another’s good fortune? 

What does this story say about human nature?

What does the story teach about the connection between generosity and jealousy?



I know many people who are amazingly generous. I have heard stories about acts of incredible generosity. The lives of generous people reflect their attitude of sharing and caring for others. Generosity is a gift to both the giver and the recipient.


Generosity is one of the values reflected in the Lindisfarne community’s understandings. Our understandings are things we aspire to, not those which have already been attained. The introduction to the understandings describes them as “shining, precious gems, winsome, lovely, drawing us out of ourselves . . .” 


Understanding number twelve reads:


“We are called to a generous, self-giving life. In order for that to happen, we try not to hoard our time, talents, money or gifts; developing the habit of giving things away. In the Lindisfarne Community we encourage members not to be limited by the tithe, but to be expansive in our thinking about generosity; listening to the gentle promptings of the Spirit. We are often surprised how giving God wants us to be.” (New Way of Living )

(Photo: Owl that lives near our house 2023)










Sunday, September 10, 2023

Does it Cause Harm?

I read the lectionary text today with a sense of unease (Matthew 18.15-20). Something about it just didn’t feel right. I thought it sounded like a recipe for disaster if taken to an extreme. 


One of the words Andy and I use often when teaching childcare and trauma is “harm”. 

What harm has been caused in the past? 

Will this cause more harm in the present?


And those questions are not just reserved for childcare teaching but they are much more widespread. Whatever I do, in all my interactions with other people, animal friends or nature I want to check with myself — will this cause harm?


As I read though the instructions given in the text, that was the question that came immediately to mind — will this cause harm? Sadly, I decided yes, it could cause harm. Therefore, needs to be viewed with caution.


As always, with the scriptures I want to ground the passage in being relevant for today not just a story from the past. So, the question I ask myself would this be a good model of practice for today?


The text talks about relationships and how one should behave on seeing a friend doing something considered wrong. The first bit of advice given is “go and point out the fault when alone” (15). Now that advice sounds okay, of course, it depends on relationship with the person. The key word for me is alone.  


Next the advice is “take one or two others with you” (v.16). A little trickier in practice especially if the others were unaware of the “fault”. A great deal of care would be needed not to slip into the realm of gossip under the guise of concern. However, there are occasions when care and concern does require sharing with others. So, I can see this advice as a possibility for today.


But then the text pushes further, if the small group are unheeded “go to the church”. First, I must ask myself what is meant by “church” in the time this was allegedly spoken — pre-crucifixion and pre-resurrection. Is this perhaps a clue, that these words were put into Jesus’ mouth by the author of the gospel? I’ll leave that discussion for another day. 


However, using this bit of the advice in contemporary times is my recipe for disaster! Here’s the suggestion — let’s blazon everyone’s faults all over the “church” Facebook page or shout them out from a pulpit or write a blog about them. Using the question, I’m asking myself, would this cause harm — here my answer is a loud and definite “Yes”.


Moving on the final advice in this part of the text is, if announcing the “fault” to everyone doesn’t change them, then treat them as an outcast. Again, this causes harm. This is still a practice today in certain religious groups — I recently read a novel about the practice of shunning as used by the Amish. But it is not restricted to Amish communities. I, and others I know, have been victims of the practice. If the leadership of a group is disagreed with, this is interpreted as a “fault” in the member who then one becomes an outcast! So sad and so harmful. 


As always when faced with this sort of dilemma, I resort to thinking about how these unpalatable scriptures are handled.


One thing I find helpful is to use the “redemptive movement hermeneutic” a term first coined by William Webb. Very simply it is a way of interpreting scriptures by looking at the history of a practice mentioned in a text thus seeing how it compares with the norm of the time. Webb argues that scriptures consistently point towards a more ethical practice, and this continues to be ongoing. For examples, think of slavery, treatment of women or corporal punishment — where they were, where they are now and how there is still room for improvement. In the interest of not making this too long that is all I’ll say about it here, but I do spend time discussing it in much more detail my book on corporal punishment.


So, I find the redemptive movement hermeneutic really helpful when interpreting scriptures — particular those that would be deemed to cause harm in contemporary society. In the same way slavery, women and corporal punishment are shown to be moving towards a better practice, the text today can be viewed that way.


In our culture society has moved a long way in the treatment of people. As I read this text, I can hear the underlying concern for others and I can focus on that, but, at the same time, I recognize that that the methods suggested may not be the best as there has been more revelation. There is a much better understanding of trauma and harm and how to treat people who are in need or engaging in things considered problematic — and how to care for them in a loving way. 

This way of viewing the text helps us embrace a gentler, kinder spirituality.

(Photo: Ives Run, PA. August 2023.)







































Sunday, August 20, 2023

An unnamed, history-changing woman!

 An unnamed, history-changing woman!


I like the gospel text for today’s lectionary reading (Matthew 15.21-28). It highlights, perhaps, one of the more profound moments in the gospels — an incident captured in just a few short verses that changed the future, indeed it was history-making. 


Sadly, the hero of the text remains unnamed. Perhaps, her name has been lost in the annals of time or simply was never even known or considered too insignificant to record. 


I think names are really important, they signify a whole person. If anyone mentions the name of my children, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, sisters or friends I immediate can picture them. Not just physically, but as a whole inner person too. Named characters in the scriptures can conjure up a mental image of that person too. The power of using some-one’s name should never be underestimated.


Sadly, no name is given to the person in today’s text. She is identified by only two things — her race and her gender. I think that alone is worthy of moments pause to give some serious consideration to — identified only by race and gender. I have to ask myself, how much further have we progressed in the twenty-first century. Are people still identified by race and gender rather than seen simply as a person? 


In the text a Canaanite woman (gospel of Mark further identified her as Syrophoenician) came to Jesus to seek healing for her daughter. Initially, she was ignored — “send her away”, cried the disciples. 


Still she persisted. Then Jesus emphasized his mission was only to the people of Israel. 


Still, she persisted. Jesus’ next response was even harsher, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 


Wow! I often wonder — was she a “dog” because of her race or because of her gender?


I have heard and read many attempts to mediate Jesus’ responses. There are suggestions such as Jesus didn’t really mean it or it was only said to test the faith of the woman or bring her to a point of humility. Personally, I don’t like the idea that unpalatable passages are explained away. Sometimes events in the Bible are simply not good and we need to acknowledge, accept and deal with that. I think Jesus’ response here was one of those times. Jesus was focused on his mission to the Jewish people and treated the Syrophoenician woman with contempt.


However, this unnamed Syrophoenician woman was not cowed. All her mothering instinct and nurturing came to the fore — this was for a chance for her daughter. So, she challenged the narrowness of the mission. “… even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 


This unnamed person found voice. In doing so something amazing happened.  Her response opened Jesus’ eyes that the message of healing and wholeness was for everyone. Thankfully, Jesus heard and accepted the message.


I think God used this unnamed woman to reveal to Jesus that the ministry and message was available for all. Usually, credit for expansion of the ministry to include gentiles is given to a man, Cornelius (Acts 10). I have heard Cornelius’ story called “an event of utmost importance”.  


So, in the collective memory of the history of the church credit for opening the door to the gentiles remains at the hands of a named man. And the unnamed woman, who pushed very hard to open that same door, remains uncredited. 


Today, I want to remember and honour her for the huge part she played in the history of Christianity. This woman who found her voice, opened the door for the message of inclusion to be heard by future generations. This was a turning point in history — the message became all are welcomed and received. 

(Photo: Trap Pond State Park — June 2023)





Sunday, April 23, 2023

Walking and Talking Together


Two disciples were walking down a road to their home in Emmaus in this popular story (Luke 24.13-35). A longish walk as it was seven miles from Jerusalem where they had lingered for three days after the death of Jesus. As they journeyed a third person joined them and the three engaged in a deeply spiritual conversation. When they arrived home, they urged the stranger to stay the night with them as it was getting late. As bread was broken they realized it was the risen Christ who had joined them.


This story has been depicted many times in beautiful works of art. To name just a few of the more famous . . .


Duccio (1308)

Caravaggio (1601)

Rembrandt (1648)

Zund (1887)

De Maistre (1958)


Although visually different, one thing they all have in common is they were all painted through a patriarchal lens. Each work of art depicts the two disciples who were making the journey as two males. 


As always, I want to challenge the popular assumption and read the story against the grain rather than go with the norm. Therefore, I must question why it has been assumed, through the centuries, that these two disciples were men.


 Of course, the story tells us that one of them was a man. Not only a man but one who was even named, Cleopas. The other disciple was unnamed. It is often the women in scripture who remain unnamed and invisible. 


Sadly, this is not only found the Bible, but women in many spheres have also often remained unnamed. This week I was looking at the life and teaching of Confucius and saw exactly the same thing. Confucius’ father was named in first century book, The Book of the Historian, whilst his mother was unnamed — once again the woman was insignificant and invisible.


Returning to the Emmaus Rd, a little bit of study shows us that Cleopas had a wife, Mary (John 19:25).  It is important to note here that Clopas and Cleopas are variations of the same name. Clopas is the Greek form while Cleopas is the Aramaic form. In the same way Paul is the Latin transliteration of the Greek name Saul. The early church father, Eusebius, believed that Cleopas/Clopas was the brother of Joseph, the legal parent of Jesus.


So, we are told that Cleopas’ wife, Mary was in Jerusalem. She was named in the gospel of John as one of the women who remained at the foot of the cross. Therefore, it would seem plausible to assume that the couple of disciples walking towards their home in Emmaus were Cleopas and Mary, rather than two men. Otherwise Cleopas would have left his wife behind in Jerusalem! 


In my interpretation, it was a married couple who urged Jesus to spend the night at their home. This makes the most sense to me.  It all seems so obvious, yet for centuries the patriarchal mindset has completely overlooked the possibility of a woman. Women can’t really have been significant enough to have had a long walk with the resurrected Christ and offered an invitation to Christ to spend the night at their home. 


This story is well worth thinking about in the light of patriarchy. It can serve as a model of how we approach the scriptures. There is a need to recognize that the patriarchy of that time is reflected in the Bible. A patriarchy which has often been picked up whenever the scripture is read. Hence two disciples equal two men. If we approach the readings recognising the inherent patriarchy and looking beyond it there are lots of hidden gems showing the presence and participation of the women of the time.


Lindisfarne is an inclusive community. Being aware of patriarchy in our lives, workplace and ministry is a small part of that inclusivism. How we approach and read the scriptures is a key component. If it is to be relevant it is important that we acknowledge the place of women in our spiritual tradition. 


As Anne Thurston said, now many years ago,


“I have struggled with the attempt to integrate the insights from feminism with the Christian tradition. This struggle continues but with greater assurance that integration is not only possible but necessary for the transformation of the whole church. I believe, however inadequately it has been realised, that Jesus established a radically inclusive community . . . It is not simply a matter of including the voices of women but of creating inclusive community symbolised by an inclusive ministry. The centre is transformed as the context of women’s lives becomes part of the text of revelation.” (Anne Thurston, Because of her Testimony, p.4-5)


 Today I want to offer this alternate interpretation of the two disciples on the Emmaus Rd to challenge the status quo. Ultimately, after studying for themselves, some friends reading this may still prefer to accept the more common interpretation —that it was two men journeying and living together maybe a same-sex couple.  That is absolutely fine. 


The important thing is to let any text challenge the patriarchal mindset and to enrich beyond the accepted norm. That is the beauty of reading against the grain. 


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Christ is Risen

Christ is risen

Christ is risen indeed

Happy Easter to everyone reading this.


How quickly the seasons change, once again it is time to ponder the Easter events which culminate in the story of resurrection with death being overcome. It is quite a weekend, a rollercoaster ride of being in the deepest despair to the heights of joy. 


Yesterday, this emotional ride was constantly at the back of my mind as I pondered what to say about it. Then I unexpectedly read a poem —it was in a novel I was reading — nothing about Easter or death or resurrection, yet it seemed to capture the very depths of suffering and reflect the despair the followers of Jesus would be feeling.


Does my twisting body spell out Grace?

I hurt, therefore I am.

Faith, Charity and Hope

are three dead angels

falling like meteors —

(Louise Penny)


I spent a while pondering these few lines. I found them quite profound. For those who followed Jesus, the crucifixion was more than just physical death, it was the end, the death of all they had hoped for and had faith in. Everything was shattered. Despair ruled!


But things changed (John 20:1-18) — Mary came to the tomb and saw the stone had been removed.(1) The body had been taken, could her sorrow be any deeper? Not even a body to tend and prepare, an important part of both custom and grief. Mary went and told two other disciples who returned with her to check the veracity of her words. They too saw the evidence of the missing body. Perhaps one of the saddest lines summing up their despair is they “returned to their homes”. It was pointless hanging around.


Yet, Mary did. Mary stayed by the empty tomb weeping. In the depths of her grief, she peeped into the tomb and saw a vision of two angels. I wonder if at that point a flicker of hope rose in her heart. A little ray of light penetrating the darkness. The angels spoke asking why she wept. Her response was that she did not know where the body of Jesus was. In the text, even at this point Mary’s hope was not of resurrection but of finding the body of the one she loved so she could care for it.  She needed to do that, her last gift to her friend.


But as soon as she had spoken, she became aware of a person behind her. I imagine that was all a bit frightening. She did not recognise the person as Jesus. 


I think there is something important to grasp here, the physical, the body was completely different, there was nothing recognisable. Everything was changed. The author of the gospel commented that Mary then supposed it was a gardener and asked if they had removed the body. Mary was still thinking about her duty of care, her last outpouring of love. 


A word changed everything; a name was spoken. It is a powerful thing to use someone’s name, it denotes relationship and care. It is connection between human beings. I can’t think of a better or more meaningful way uttering this greeting than that single word “Mary”. (15)


Immediately recognition followed —what joy, what elation! I can’t imagine what thoughts must have been going through Mary’s head at that moment as grief was replaced with a dawning hope and realization. It was not the end. It was a new beginning. Everything had changed, not just for that instant but for the future. Life had won.


And Mary’s response was to go and share the news with the others who loved Jesus so they could find renewed hope and joy. Mary, the apostle to the apostles running to bring the good news — Christ is risen.