>St Augustine’s Day

>Paul Ballard and John Pritchard talk the work of the practical theologian in their book “Practical Theology in Action”. “The work of the practical theologian is to participate in and be a catalyst for the common life of the whole Christian community”.

They quote St Augustine:

When I am frightened by what I am to you then I am consoled by what I am with you. To you I am bishop, with you I am a Christian. The first is an office, the second a grace; the first a danger, the second salvation.

Ballard and Pritchard also write about the practical theologian:

The practical theologian strives to be a bridge across a divide; a catalyst sstimulating change and renewal; an enabler, who allows others to take up responsibilities; an educator who opens up the world to students within the community of shared learning. Of course there are set occasions and structured means to facilitate this process of theological reflection but it is essentially an ongoing process of shared living. It is always a vulnerable and exposed position appearing to have no status or substance other than the wisdom and the skills that are learned in the doing. (p37)

Twelfth Night

Today is Epiphany – January 6th. Twelfth Night – down with that tree and away with that tinsel. Highlight of the season has been reading The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. This has given spiritual direction for this wonderful season. Borg and Crossan describe the birth stories of Matthew and Luke’s gospels as “parabolic overtures” for their whole gospel of joy and conflict – personal and political.

Today, Epiphany, focus is on the story of the visit of the Magi who travel one road and then return by another road. The road they travel is to the palace of Jerusalem. Of course, they would go that way. The way of the worldy wise is to the palace and the court. They discover how wrong they are. In Breugemann’s phrase, they finish “9 miles wide”, and discover their journey’s end (and their beginning – TS Eliot) to be not at the court of Herod but in the outbuildings of an inn in Bethlehem. Their return “by another road” signifies repentance – a change of mind – demanded by the Jesus of the Gospel. “They no longer walked the same path, but followed another way.”

Messrs Borg and Crossan wonder whether I am “like the Magi who follow the light and refuse to comply with the ruler’s plot to destroy it.” Or whether I am like Herod “filled with fear and willing to use whatever means necessary to maintain power, even violence and slaughter.” Am I among those “who yearn for the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace, who seek peace through justice”, or am I among those “advocates of imperial theology who seek peace through victory?”

Borg and Crossan refer to the three tenses of Christmas. Past, present and future – as retold by Charles Dickens in the Christmas Carol. Of the future tense they refer to three different understandings:
One is called “interventionist eschatology” – in which only God can bring about the new world.
The second is called “participatory eschatology” in which we are to participate with God in bringing about the world promised by Christmas.
The third involves letting go of eschatology altogether in which Christian hope is not about the transformation of this world.
Only the second is affirmed by Borg and Crossan – thankfully. “We who have seen the star and heard the angels sing are called to participate in the new birth and new world proclaimed by these stories.” They quote Augustine’s aphorism: “God without us will not; we without God cannot.”

>Managing anger

> Anger management is something we hear a lot about. Some of us find it difficult to control our anger and it soon spills into violence.
But we need to manage to be angry. Bede Jarrett protests; “The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”
Anger needs to be tempered with patience because without patience it becomes short-tempered searching for short cuts to destroy its cause.

According to Augustine of Hippo, anger is one of HOPE’s beautiful daughters.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Born of hope, and twinned with courage, anger is a virtue. In any other family anger is destructive – one of the seven deadly sins.

Anger as the sensitive response to injustice is a very distant relative to the anger which expresses itself irritably and hurtfully. That anger we have to manage, but the other we also ought to manage.