Dying to live
He was, above all, a teacher. Sometimes, we forget that. But if we narrow his story to fit our notions of atonement theology, we make him too small, and make God too small. This Jesus, this sacred fire in human form, was the greatest teacher this world has known. He taught from his knowledge of God, his knowledge of humanity and something else – his awareness of himself as the bridge between the two. He was love made flesh.
This Easter I pray for the grace to remember that I, too, am love made flesh.
What Jesus taught were the truths of life school, so simple that people who lived with superficial complexity, did not understand. He may have used the metaphors of the field and market place, but they stood for something much deeper. He was saying, this is how life school works. “Give and it shall be given to you, a full measure shaken down and overflowing.” “The last shall be first.” “The stone rejected by the builders will be the cornerstone.” “Except a grain of wheat die it will remain a single grain.” Loss comes before gain. Crucifixion comes before resurrection. This, my friends, is the way of growth.
And because truth has no application unless it is lived, the great fire of God, burning with love, went through every loss that we, the little sparks, might suffer, including the darkness of torture and death, to walk out in light on the other side. He literally was the way, the truth and the life.
This Easter I pray for awareness of the teachings of Jesus when I have times of loss.
In some respects, it’s a pity we’ve lost the name given to Jesus’ life and teaching. Before followers came up with the word Christianity it was called The Way, and that for me, is a direction connection with the Gospels. It suggests a journey with Jesus, a pilgrimage of growth in which we are constantly leaving something behind, constantly meeting spiritual renewal. Every step of The Way we have him with us, reminding us that what is resurrected is always greater than what has died.
This Easter I name all the small crucifixions and resurrections that have brought me to a larger place, and I give deep thanks.
If you, like me, are of an age where you don’t see well without glasses, you are probably aware that you have 20/20 hindsight. You can look over your years in life school and clearly see the lessons that made you grow. They weren’t always easy. If we try to dodge a lesson it comes back again, and again, each time a little harder, until we take notice. So we take it on board, pass the exam, and perhaps have a brief school holiday before the next lesson is given to us.
When we are young, the lessons involving loss are not understood in the context of growth. How can they be? The young haven’t lived the full process and can only hold on in faith, trusting that all will be well. We need a few decades of experience before we realize what Jesus meant by, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
This Easter I pray that I may be without judgement as I accompany a young person who is in a hard place.
If we spend a little time in reflection, we can see how loss in our lives broke down to make compost for future growth. Remember all those crucifixions? Loss of someone we loved? Loss of employment? Loss of status because we were the victims of gossip and/or injustice? Loss of self-esteem through error and failure?
We know that when we actively journeyed through the crucifixion experience, we found ourselves resurrected as stronger and better people. We know, too, that the only thing that can prevent our resurrection is being stuck in the tomb with bitterness, resentment, self-pity.
This Easter I pray for courage to journey through loss, without putting blame on anyone.
Jesus in his agony had a deep understanding of those who nailed him to the cross. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Even then, he could speak the truth of the human condition. We are all little sparks of God, all spiritual beings coping with human existence. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. The people who crucified Jesus were caught up in political propaganda and madness. Jesus understood that. When we are in a situation of stress, it is all too easy to lose sight of the God-light in another person.
This Easter I pray for a greater awareness of the inherent good in all people.
For Jesus, his birth must have been a kind of death, the infinite coming into finite limitation. As the awareness of who he was and what he had to do grew, it must have been a burden that he couldn’t share with others, even his closest friends. No one could possibly understand.
It was too big, far beyond the experience of his disciples. Through the anguish of dying, he must also have known that this was a birthing process, and when he cried, “It is finished!” he would not be talking simply about his life in a human body, but about a mission accomplished. Soon he would be released from a limited form to be with all humankind.
This Easter I talk to Jesus about the way He guides me on my own way to graduation from life school.
Shortly before his ride into Jerusalem, Jesus had a glimpse of resurrection on the mount of Transfiguration. Scripture shares that with us.
Our personal understanding of resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday, with the joyous festival of our risen Christ. For us, this is a day of light, music, flowers, the ultimate triumph over death, and although we wept on Good Friday, we know that Jesus had to die to be with us here and now.
This Easter I pray for a deeper knowledge of Jesus with me in all the little dyings and resurrections in my life.
Finding the peace in easter
Rob Ritchie writes from the peace tradition with particular reference to our own land of Aotearoa, recalling the life of Archibald Baxter, and tradition of Parihaka
Have you ever been told that Jesus died “to save us all and put us right with God”? I’ve heard this many times: where the score with God is settled by Jesus taking the hit on our behalf. This idea has always seemed puzzling and somehow incomplete – until recently when I learned some historical background by which this claim about the meaning of Easter made sense.
Apparently, a week before he died Jesus organised a street parade to give the citizens of Jerusalem an alternative to watching a big military march-past, scheduled to happen in their capital city that same day. Resentment against the occupying Roman army brought out huge crowds of Jerusalem locals to support the Jesus-parade, instead of the Roman one. The local response was so strong that branches were torn off palm trees and some people stripped off their cloaks and threw them down in front of him.
It was a peaceful and daring political act which got a wildly enthusiastic response, with people shouting: “Yes, only God can save us!” (from these invaders of our country) Christians still remember Palm Sunday by making crosses out of fronds; but finding out Palm Sunday was a peaceful protest against Roman military-muscle – that’s new, for me.
With this background the “Jesus died to save us all’” version of Easter takes on new meaning. For example, I’d always had the sense that Jesus took the fatal hit from God, but it turns out the hit was put out by his religious and political opponents. Other citizens might have dreamed of the Romans being driven out and humiliated in war, but Jesus resolved he would die rather than fight to free his people from the Roman Empire.
When Jesus came riding past on a donkey those crowds were cheering the start of a peaceful uprising – so effective and tragic that its leader would be strung up before the week was over. By this defiant decision, however, Jesus freed his followers from slavery to any Empire in any time.
The tradition of making peace
This was fully understood by early Christians, who were known for refusing military service and a fearless and loving defiance towards the empire of Rome. The apostle John would write of it as: “The love which casts out all fear” (1 Jn 4,14). Within a few centuries, however, the empire had merged with the church, placing Jesus at the head of its army, and from there his effigy has overseen successive campaigns of violence, as one empire has given sway to the next.
It was the theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan who put Palm Sunday into context for me in their book The Last Week (2006). Reviving this part of the Easter story is momentous news because only being told “Jesus died to save you” has for centuries succeeded in keeping Christian folk in the dark about what this means. Meanwhile there’s been almost total silence about Jesus’ radically peaceful politics.
It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of other evidence in the Bible for Jesus being on a peace mission. Headlines to the Christmas story have always had Jesus being called “Prince of Peace”. But somewhere in the retelling of events between Christmas and Good Friday, Jesus’ sharply pointed act of peaceful resistance against Rome got lost from the Easter story.
Emphasising how Jesus has put us right with God, while leaving out the peace-politics of how he did this: that is really dodgy politics. Worse still it’s had consequences which have broadly ravaged the whole planet by clearing the way for Jesus to be claimed as Saviour by those who follow the Roman Empire’s example.
A bellicose tradition
Often, Christians have just looked the other way when injustices occur. As a result, for most of the last 20 centuries, Christianity has looked pretty monstrous, especially from the perspective of indigenous peoples. And over the last 60 years the indigenous communities of Palestine, some within a few kilometres of Jesus’ birthplace, have again been subjected to violent invasion, supported (to our collective shame) by a large bloc of Christians around the world.
Because of selective blindness and such aggressive collusions, we Christians now have this disastrous reputation for being an exceptionally bellicose people. Again and again this has confounded those who have been visited by the Bible and then the sword – especially when they have opened our Good Book and read what Jesus actually teaches. Surely it is a global tragedy that for nearly two millennia so many of those who love peace, and might otherwise have followed Jesus, have been driven away!
Signs of change
The Auckland writer C K Stead once attended a special church service during the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand by the all-white South African Rugby Team. A majority of New Zealanders had come out against what they saw as a racist tour, and many attempted peaceful actions in protest. Included was the performance of a drama, the centrepiece of the church service attended by Stead. At the end, the congregation was invited to say what they thought.
But because the drama took an anti-Tour perspective, some regular churchgoers were soon complaining loudly that such politics shouldn’t be brought into church. Stead stood up and disagreed. He said he’d really been moved by the performance, and as he watched it he started wondering why he hadn’t been to church for so long. Then he heard the complaints and remembered why.
Widespread despair about the silencing of Jesus’ peace-politics has been growing for a long time. Early last century the great Irish poet W B Yeats was moved to write a terrifying and deeply pessimistic poem called The Second Coming. In it Jesus is not mentionedInstead a monstrous creature returns, “…slouching towards Bethlehem to be born”. “Surely,” says Yeats, “some revelation is at hand?”
At the same time that Yeats wrote this, some signs of peaceful resistance by Christians were reappearing. Confined to a ship’s prison-cabin with several others, Otago farmer Archibald Baxter was shipped off to the battlefields of France, where in 1917, in an unsuccessful attempt to make him take military orders, he and his companions endured prolonged abuse by our military authorities. This included Baxter being tortured with the infamous ‘Field Punishment No 1’, referred to by the troops as “the execution” and described later in Baxter’s memoirs We Will Not Cease” (1937).
Since ancient times a strong mood for peace has always existed in these Southern Islands, passing from one generation to the next. For example in the year Baxter was born (1881) the Taranaki village of Parihaka was invaded by colonial troops and systematically wrecked, in response to one of the most creative campaigns of peaceful resistance of all time. Like conscientious objections against World War One, the resistance at Parihaka was inspired in part by the teachings of Jesus. At Parihaka, these and other Bible teachings were woven into local traditions of peaceful conflict resolution, including those established on Rekohu/Chatham Islands several centuries before the arrival of the Gospel.
With the true peace-politics of Christianity reappearing and joining with other ancient peace-traditions, perhaps some hopeful revelation is at hand? It certainly won’t do any harm to keep praying for it.
Kia mau tonu ake te rongo!
Restoration of women to the diaconate
Kath Rushton RSM
If we could have visited a Christian community in the first century of the church we would discover three kinds of ministers: “overseers” (episkopoi), “elders” (presbyteroi) and deacons (diakonoi). These were dedicated to their tasks through prayer and the laying-on-of-hands. Paul describes deacons (often translated as ‘servants’) as his co-workers and assistants in the work of evangelisation (I Cor 3:4-5).
The singular term diakonos in Greek may be either masculine or feminine. The pronoun that goes before it indicates whether it refers to a male or female person. In Romans 16:1, when Paul refers to Phoebe, “diakonos of the church of Cenchreae,” we find a female pronoun. The nature of the ancient ‘diaconate’ in general, and Phoebe’s in particular, continues to be a matter of debate. What is certain is that women deacons were charged with certain ecclesial functions in the early church.
Several church writings tell of a later order of deaconesses – a specific female term rather than the same term for female and male deacons. The liturgical texts are very similar for the ordination of a deacon and a deaconess. The bishop is instructed to lay hands upon him or her. The same words are used in both rites: “…upon this your handmaid (in the case of a male, “servant”) who is to be ordained to the diaconate.”
The given duties of deaconesses included: religious instruction – bringing the Gospel to ‘heathen’ women, preparing them for baptism and guidance afterwards; and worship – for example, the pre-baptismal anointing of female catechumens and putting on the white robe after baptism. Other sources tell us that in the assembly, in the absence of the priest and deacon, the deaconess might ascend the lectern, incense both the book and the women present, and read the Gospel, as well as distribute Eucharist.
The deaconess was responsible for the material and spiritual care of sick women. Epiphanius (315-403) says that a priest or deacon could not administer the sacrament of the sick to women. This was a ministry for the deaconess: she shared equally in the priestly ministry of anointing the sick as in the rite of baptism.
St John Chrysostom (349-407) addressed some of his letters to deaconesses. To Olympias, the head of deaconesses in his episcopal see, he wrote at least 17 letters. The eastern restoration of women to the diaconate church was then in full communion with Rome, and deaconesses are explicitly mentioned as being in Rome in the eighth century.
Restrictions were placed on deaconesses, such as a minimum age. The Council of Chalcedon (451) declared that no woman should be ordained a deaconess until she is 40 years old. In terms of their ministry there were also cultural restrictions. The Council of Nicaea restricted both women and men from usurping powers beyond their jurisdiction. Later councils abolished this office altogether for both deacons and deaconesses.
The diaconate in recent times
In the Middle Ages, the three orders of bishop, priest and deacon were unified in the priesthood with the focus on Eucharistic sacrifice. However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) rejected this view. Deacons are ordained “not to priesthood but to a ministry of service” (Lumen Gentium #29). This, however, does not destroy the unity of the one “ministry exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons.” (#28)
Some scholars (Martimort and Müller) denied that deaconesses had ever been ordained in the church and saw diaconate as simply a stepping stone to priesthood. Women, they said, were neither ordained deaconesses – nor ever could be – in the sense that men were, and are, deacons. This centuries-old misunderstanding ‘absorbed’ the diaconate into priesthood.
It would seem that such a position may now have been undercut by Omnium in mente, a recent motu proprio issued by Pope Benedict. (A motu proprio is a document issued by the Pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him). In it, Benedict clarifies canon law on the distinction between the diaconate and priesthood. In a radical move, he upholds the constant teaching of the church that diaconate does not necessarily imply priesthood.
A distinction is to be made between priests and bishops on the one hand and deacons on the other, in ways that do not lessen the importance of diaconate or change the notion that it is included in the priesthood. The role of the permanent deacon has been clarified. Priests and bishops are ordained to act in the person of Christ, the head of the church; deacons are ordained to serve the people of God in and through the liturgy, the Word, and charity (canons 1008, 1009).
Women deacons today?
What does this mean regarding the tradition of women deacons? In the light of Benedict’s clarification of the distinction between the roles of the bishop and priest and the role of deacons, two objections used against the ordination of women would seem no longer to apply to their ordination as deacons.
1. the ‘argument from authority’: it was the apostles, not Jesus, who chose the first deacons (Acts 6:1-6).
2. the ‘iconic argument’: the deacon is ordained to serve the people of God, not to act in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). Therefore, the deacon who serves is not to be confused with the bishop and the priest who act as specific icons of Christ.
The changes made by Pope Benedict may have been aimed to distinguish legally the diaconate from the episcopate and priesthood. In clarifying these distinctions between and among the grades of the one Sacrament of Orders, it could be argued that Benedict’s motu proprio may pave the way for the restoration of women to the ancient order of deacon.
Rescuing troublesome teenagers
Retired school principal Dame Pat Harrison has a passion for helping disadvantaged children. Michael Hill interviewed her about her work, her opinion of present educational policy and her vision for a possible future.
Ever since she retired as Principal of Dunedin’s Queens High School in 1995, Dame Pat Harrison has busied herself with the problems of children and adolescents who drop out of the education system. On any given day in New Zealand 30,000 children ‘wag’ school. Many of these will get involved in petty crime. They are the ‘long tail’ of our education system, and it is something this country can ill afford.
Behind these statistics, says Pat, is something even more sinister. Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft recently stated that the majority of teenagers who came before him are not at school at all. They are ‘the tail behind the tail’. When the Tomorrow’s Schools programme was introduced in the ’80s, it failed to provide any adequate means of identifying such children who fall between the cracks in the system, or of keeping track of them. They have become the ‘lost generation’, and they are keeping our prisons well stocked.
Pat Harrison’s interest in good remedial education started early in life. Her parents had not themselves received much in the way of secondary schooling, but they were determined that she should. Her father she describes as a “man of ideas”, and she took after him. When she was at secondary school, she noted and disapproved of the way in which young people were segregated early into academic and ‘commercial’ streams. University taught her that good education is always a liberating experience, and she became ambitious that it be available to all.
When she began a career as a secondary teacher, she soon learnt how different were the backgrounds of the children she had to deal with. She noted how some could be handicapped by a dysfunctional home situation. “It became my abiding ambition to educate these children away from dependency.”
The economic crisis of the 1980s meant that a few of her students left school and then failed to find employment. Some went on to become long-term unemployed. They became dole dependent. There are young people today whose parents and grandparents have been unemployed, so they have lost the language of the workplace. Pat sees this as a true basic cause of serious social malaise.
The situation in dunedin
While still at Queens, Pat became chairperson of the Highcliff High programme. Highcliff High was a part residential facility available to secondary schools in the city for remedial education. Some were sent there because they were troublesome in school or playing truant. The regime had three aims: to re-establish regular attendance; to catch up on failings in literacy and numeracy; and to correct attitude and behaviour. If successful, this enabled failing pupils to be reintegrated into normal schooling. At any one time there might be 15 to 20 pupils at Highcliff High. They were the ‘hard core’, as it were. They would normally spend several months there, according to individual need.
In the late ’90s Education Minister Wyatt Creech decided to close Highcliff High. Pat Harrison travelled to Wellington to help draw up guidelines for its successor. She insisted that the local community must play some part in the new facility, especially for its funding. In 2000 the Ministry’s Special Education Services took over the overall governance and established what was known as the Pheonix Centre. So it continued to be possible for difficult Dunedin children to have time out of school for specialist remedial treatment.
The Otago wellness trust
Pat Harrison had retired from being Principal of Queens in 1995. It was the Year of the Family. Police in Dunedin were having a major problem with youth crime during school hours – much of it due to children playing truant. Pat was asked by the police to help establish a structure to deal with this. It became a special project for the Year of the Family. Some 80 city organisations were brought together to look at the needs of young people in Dunedin. Even the young people themselves were included in the consultation.
The result was the setting up of the Otago Youth Wellness Trust, which continues to do very good work in the city. Pat became its first chairperson. “We would put forward a case for funding. I used to take some young people along with me, say, to Community Trust Otago, and let them present the case for funding. The Wellness Trust grew out of the community and was a response to the cry of the deprived young people themselves.”
One major difficulty Pat discovered was that many of the agencies were not used to working together or looking at the whole person-at-risk. Health was only interested in health problems; education in educational deficiencies. “Eventually,” she said, “I sought to bring together this piecemeal system of administration and fund-gathering by establishing a single contract. Health, CYPS, education, the police, the judiciary all needed to co-operate together.
What happens now is that a child with a problem is referred by the court, by parents or by doctors; some even refer themselves. Their needs, especially their home needs, are assessed. They are each given a case manager. There are 21 of these working in the city. The children are each given goals, and the various services work with them to achieve these goals. Each year some 300 children in the city are helped by the Trust.”
To some extent the work of the Wellness Trust overlaps with that of the Phoenix Centre. For instance, those who might drop out of the Phoenix programme will be taken on by the Trust. However, largely the work of one has complemented the other.
Closure of the phoenix centre
The National Government has now decided to change this system radically. “We have been accused by the Ministry of ‘soft alienation’”, Pat states. “What is that? They say we are helping schools get rid of children they don’t want. The Ministry’s view is that these at-risk children must remain in the school and be dealt with there, not by some special agency.”
The closure of the Phoenix Centre is a consequence of this new Ministry policy. They are failing to see the value of the various agencies working together to save at-risk children. No school or agency can achieve that on its own. The Ministry’s action is jeopardising the whole future of these children and any possibility of them succeeding educationally.
Previously, the Government had set up a review of Phoenix, which revealed some shortcomings. The staff, led by a very experienced Principal Jill Vosper, were doing their best, and the Centre was working well for the Dunedin schools. Principals were largely very happy with the results (see below). What was found to be lacking, however, was proper monitoring and inspection, long-term strategic planning or in-service training for staff. There was no proper audit, as Highcliff had had. But it was the Ministry itself that was failing Phoenix by not providing these things. It is interesting that this Review did not recommend the Centre be closed.
The new Government policy is to train teachers to deal with these problem children inside the school itself. This is in spite of the fact that for all sorts of reasons these children may have become unteachable within the school. The Government is insisting that they must be left there to continue to fail and be disruptive. A successful remedial system is simply being demolished.
What should happen
Dame Pat concluded by presenting her own solution to this ongoing problem of educational failure. “I want to see centres out of school to which young people can be referred. Such a centre would have a clinical psychologist, good case workers and a multiskilled staff. There is an excellent model to be followed in Sweden. The referred pupils continue to follow the curriculum, including manual skills. They get used to working for a whole day. They move eventually into vocational training.
“The young people would receive a proper preparation for life. The governance is from the local community representing all the relevant agencies. These centres must be an integral part of the education system, not just appendages. They would be all over the country, especially in areas of greatest social need. What we would not want to replicate in them would be the neglect of proper governance afforded to the Phoenix Centre by the Ministry of Education.”
Carl, a year 10 student, was constantly disruptive, frequently truanted from school and even threatened violence. He was sent to the Phoenix Centre for part of a term. He is now back at school and for two successive years has appeared on the school prize list.
This is but one example of the remarkable success achieved in Dunedin City by the Centre. Paul Ferris, Principal of Kavanagh College, said he had sent up to six pupils a year to Phoenix and the success rate had been high. From the last 20 or so cases, only three or four had been finally suspended by the school. The partnership between Dunedin Secondary schools and Phoenix since 2000 had resulted in Dunedin having the lowest suspension rate of any city in the country.
“We have seen the great gains of this system”, says Paul. “When a child is disruptive in class, that child will be sent out of class for a time and the class settles down to normal learning. When a seriously disruptive pupil is sent to Pheonix for six to ten weeks, there is a real chance that the negative pattern of behaviour will be changed and the child will return having forgotten how to misbehave. Everyone gains by this”
In spite of the good data provided, the Ministry are still determined to close down Phoenix. Not only Mr Ferris but the other Dunedin Principals also are horrified that a successful system is being terminated and the pupils returned to school. It is a recipe for disaster.