The Monash Religious Centre

A tour in words of my favourite place on campus. It was going to go on Facebook, but then it got too long.

The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. Let me take you on a tour of the place that, I think, is the most diverse building on campus.
 
It’s lunch-time when we meet near the campus centre and head east towards a building that you sort of always thought was some sort of alien space-ship that had landed by mistake and turned into a second, smaller, Rotunda.
 
As we approach the building, you can see a lot of people gathered on the verandah. There are barbeques out, and lovely smells, but as we get closer, you notice that the men all have little doilies on their heads – kippot – and that some of them have knotted strings hanging out from their shirt-hems – tzitziyot. It’s the Kosher lunch, and one of the rabanim nods at us as he hurries past with an armful of barbeque-cooking implements.
 
We head inside the nearest doors, and it’s no less busy inside. Sure, it’s not exactly the Menzies foyer at class changeover, but there are people going in all directions. You need the loo, so we head straight to the ladies’ nearby. Someone yelps as we crack the door open. “Sorry!”
 
It’s opened from the inside, and we squeeze through, dodging through people to get past the sinks. There are girls in every space – adjusting hijabs, washing limbs, talking – “Am I going to get through prayer before halaqa class starts?”
 
Escaping from the press of people in the ladies’ room, we come out into the corridor, where there are fewer people, most of them moving about purposefully. There’s probably one person standing around, looking lost. “I was told to come to the religious centre for the meeting, but where do I go now?”
 
After directing her to her own chaplain, we head down the curving corridor which runs alongside the main chapel. The first room we pass is a meeting-room, and there’s movement inside it, too – a prayer meeting, of one of the evangelical Pentecostal student groups. The door’s open, and we nod at them, but continue on.
 
At the end is the chaplain’s office, with unlikely religious props stashed in every corner, and a trolley of tea-making facilities, and a massive pile of flour along one wall for the pancake breakfast for international students in the morning.
 
In the middle of the room is a circle of chairs and people with Bibles in their laps, talking over them. It’s the Catholics having a Bible study, but it’s being run by a high-church Protestant girl who’s teaching them Bible verses.
 
This is the Religious Centre. It’s a space that’s unique in the country, and it deserves much more attention than it gets. Most students probably don’t know about it unless they’re religious – and even then, some still don’t.
 
There is a building on campus where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and everyone else co-exist happily… And you know how much bad blood there is – literally blood, over the last thousand years – between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Muslims and between Muslims and Jews.
 
This is a place where three chaplains can have a perfectly rational discussion about just who it is who keeps leaving the sound system in the main chapel turned on so the battery’s run down by Monday morning. It’s a Catholic, an Orthodox, and an Adventist, and you know how Adventists feel about Catholics. But no-one accuses someone else’s leader of being the Antichrist, and no-one tells anyone that they’re not a Christian because they have three extra words in the middle of the Creed.
 
Yes, there are differences of belief. Yes, everyone aware of that, and everyone conducts their faith lives separately. There are some good, amicable discussions of differences in theology. But everyone does their thing side-by-side, cheek-by-jowl, without argument or bloodshed. Everyone gets on with a smile, appreciating the chance they have to use this amazing space.
 
The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. If you get a chance, come and visit the most diverse place of all – a place they probably didn’t even tell you about.

 

A Brief History of Christian Fasting

Adapted from paper presented for the “Spiritual Disciplimes” class at ACM in March 2016 (personal bits removed – and, indeed, rendered irrelevant by intervening events).

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I worship in a tradition which has previously practiced fasting but has now mostly abandoned the practice to embrace silence, stillness, and contemplation in its place. I’m not the sort who’s ever had much of a problem with silence, stillness, and contemplation, so these things aren’t really a spiritual discipline for me – or, at least, not a new one, and part being alive is to grow and try new things.

Fasting in the Bible

In the Bible, fasting appears to have been used for a variety of reasons, including mourning[2], preparation for a physical battle[3] or spiritual trial[4], supplication[5], repentance[6], seeking guidance[7], reading the Scripture[8], or simply to draw nearer to God[9] or gain spiritual strength[10]. On many occasions, prayer is mentioned alongside fasting[11] or depicted with it[12].

At several points in the Bible[13], we see people fasting merely for appearances’ sake, to make themselves seem more spiritual; this was apparently such a problem that Jesus gave specific instructions about fasting so as to avoid it. In Matthew 6:16-18, the disciples are told not to go about fasting in an obvious way, but to do it in secret, maintaining a happy outward appearance.

From the Biblical record, we can see that there are a number of needs which fasting fulfils, listed above. While some of these probably seem to us today to be either irrelevant (preparation for a battle) or just a little odd and unnecessary (as mourning or as preparation for reading the Scripture), they are, for the most part, needs which Christians still have today – such as spiritual trials, repenting, and the need for spiritual strength or guidance.

Fasting in Historical Christianity

Fasting two days of the week quickly became the norm in early Christianity. The Didache, which was written sometime before the end of the second century[14], states that Christians should fast on Wednesday[15] and Friday[16], rather than on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites”[17] (presumably the Jews[18]). The Didache also links fasting and praying together in the single sentence[19], indicating that the two were viewed on a similar level.

The Rev’d Joseph Connolly, a Catholic priest[20], stated,

“Fasting is recommended by the scriptures and practised by the church as a means of atoning for sin and commending ourselves and our prayers to God. Hence the fast days of the Christian calendar and their connecting with times of prayer, such as Lent and Ember weeks[21] and the eves of the great feasts.”[22]

In both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the term “fast” now applies more commonly to what might better be known as “abstinence”. In Orthodox churches, a “plain fast” or a “strict fast” require abstinence from meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, and oil[23]. Some feast days require relaxed fasts which allow wine and oil and sometimes fish. In the Roman Catholic church, which has far fewer fast days than the Orthodox church, “fasting” is abstaining simply from meat[24], or from some other food, and the canon law states that works of charity or “exercises of piety” may be substituted for fast and abstinence observance[25]. In the West, it has become more popular for Catholics to abstain from activities, such as texting[26], or from treat foods only, such as chocolate, for Lent. Some Anglican churches recommend daily periods of contemplative prayer and self-examination in place of fasting[27].

Meanwhile, while the practice of fasting is falling prey to attempts to make it relevant by eliminating it in traditional churches, it has experienced something of a revival in Pentecostal churches. Pentecostal churches, leery of legalism, do not legislate any specific fast days and instead leave it up to “the leading of God”. However, many individuals within the Pentecostal movement have labelled different sorts of fast, including “normal fasts” (abstaining from all food but continuing to drink water), “water fasts” (abstaining from everything, including water), and “Daniel fasts” or “partial fasts” (abstaining from one or more items of food, typically meat and sweets)[28].

Fasting in the Modern Context

It is clear to see that fasting can be, has been, and is being adapted for the modern context. In the Bible, as well as in traditional churches, fasting has been very much a communal activity, as well as at times a private one. Today, we no longer live in close, closed communities of believers, whether Jewish or Christian, which can undertake fasting as a community event. Nor, probably, would many protestants want to do so, since faith in many protestant traditions is much more a personal affair than a community one.

Despite whatever postmodern reluctance we might have to avoid doing anything as a group, whether for legalism-avoiding reasons or for anything else, it is most assuredly ill-advised to go about fasting without letting anyone know, even if only for the health concerns, to say nothing of spiritual ones. For this reason it is important to find some way of treading a middle ground between individual, personal fasting behaviour, and the congregational fasting periods of history.

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[1] Thigpen, P., Soul Building, Discipleship Journal

[2] Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 31:13, Samuel 1:11-12, 1 Kings 12:27, 1 Chronicles 10:12, Nehemiah 1:4, Esther 4:3, Psalm 69:10, Jeremiah 14:12, Joel 1:14

[3] 2 Chronicles 20:3, Esther 4:16, Matthew 4:2

[4] Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23

[5] Judges 20:26, Nehemiah 1:4, Jeremiah 14:12, Daniel 6:18, Daniel 9:3, Joel 1:14

[6] 1 Samuel 7:6, Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Daniel 9:3, Joel 2:12-15

[7] Ezra 8:21-9:5

[8] Nehemiah 9:1

[9] Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Psalm 109:24, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[10] Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29

[11] Daniel 9:3, Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29, Luke 2:37, Acts 10:30, Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[12] 1 Samuel 7:6, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21-9:5, Nehemiah 9:1, Joel 1:14

[13] Isaiah 58:2-6, Zechariah 7:3-5, Luke 18:12

[14] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 48b

[15] Interestingly, in the Gaelic language, which has no record for weekday names prior to the arrival of Christianity, Wednesday is called “Di-Ciad-Aoin”, meaning “day of the first fast”. Likewise, Friday is “Di-h-Aoine”, or “day of the fast”, leaving Thursday as “Di-Ardaoin”, a shortened form of “di-eadar-aoin” or “day between the fast”.

[16] The suggestion has been made that these days were chosen for the following reason: Wednesday because that is the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday because it is the day on which Jesus was killed

[17] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 12e, 8.1

[18] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 292c

[19] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg.s. 12e-13a, 8.1-8.3

[20] Hickerson, P, ‘Father Connolly, Severn pastor for 16 years, dies’, The Baltimore Sun, 7 March 1993, accessed 22 March 2016, <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-03-07/news/1993066097_1_catholic-priest-roman-catholic-connolly&gt;.

[21] Weeks of dedicated prayer, vigil, and spiritual renewal, see Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pgs. 168-169

[22] Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pg. 180b

[23] Seraphim of Platina, F 2008, The Rule of Fasting in the Otrhodox Church, Orthodox Christian Information Centre, accessed 24 March 2016, <http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/father-seraphim-rose-fasting-rules.aspx&gt;.

[24] Canon 1251, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[25] Canon 1253, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[26] ‘To text is to sin’, NZ Herald,  8 March 2009, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10560485&gt;

[27]  I can’t really provide a reference for this one, but if you want to check its veracity, feel free to contact Fr. Steve at Holy Innocents’ Anglican Belair.

[28] I don’t know that any of the sites I perused to find this out could be considered legitimate sources of authority, but they include, but are not limited to, such places as “Pentecostal Pioneers” <http://www.pentecostalpioneers.org/fasting.html&gt;, “Central Pentecostal Church” <http://cpchurch.ca/2013/01/03/fasting-not-just-another-diet/&gt;, and “The Apostolic Pentecostal Church” <http://theapc.org/the-foundation-of-fasting/.

Some further divide their fasts by length, exact things being abstained from, or reason. Elmer Towns, a Baptist writer, identifies fast types by  reason or aim, rather than length or abstinence, and lists nine different sorts of fast this way in his book Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, 1st Indian edn, OM Books, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

[29]  Towns, E. L. The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting, Regal Books, Ventura, California, USA.

The Fifth Day – Staying Home (Jerusalem)

I slept soundly last night, a solid nine hours until I was woken by the wake-up call.

I couldn’t detect much swelling on my foot, and the rest overnight certainly helped. Moving very slowly, I was finally ready to head down for breakfast. I’m a bit cold-y and queasy, so I was planning to just have a cup of tea.

When I got down to the dining room, the leader of the group cornered me to tell me off for not saying anything about my foot last night. “You shouldn’t tell everyone in Australia before you’ve told us!”

I thought I hadn’t done much damage to it last night! I mentioned it to the group member helping me on the wall when I did it – “Ow, I just landed a bit funny” – but by the time lunch was over, I’d gone pretty numb. The temperature dropped dramatically over lunch – it even hailed for a few minutes – so that probably contributed. I knew it hurt a little after I’d rested for a bit before dinner, but I didn’t realise just how much it hurt until I was ready for bed.

It’s not like it’s broken or anything. It’s not even bruised.

And I did ask to miss some of the walking today. Just because I didn’t specify why!

Although, as it turns out, it’s not possible to just miss the tunnel walks this morning; I’d either have to go on the bus and wait, or miss the whole day. Since the group leader had already told me off for not ice-packing my foot last night, and I was pretty close to tears by this stage (no doubt in part due to the fact that I’m still exhausted – I’m not tired, really, anymore, but still exhausted), I decided to stay at the hotel today.

“After all,” I said something along the lines of, “For a tunnel and two fake things, it’s probably best to stay and rest for other things the rest of the week.”

“Don’t say ‘fake things’!” I was admonished. “That’s very offensive!”

The Upper Room is a traditional site, so I concede it’s probably not fake. A lot of these traditional sites, I’m sure I’d rather enjoy, were it not for being with a group of Pentecostal-Baptists who generally scorn anything involving Catholic/Orthodox tradition, with a tour guide who makes no secret of his opinions on anything.

But the other thing this afternoon is the Garden Tomb, and we already had a long diatribe a few days ago from our fearless guide about how it’s a very recent tradition, it gives you an idea of how it would have looked but it’s mostly wishful thinking, and so on, and so forth.

“It’s very offensive to many of our group members! They’re not fake!”

“I’m sure they’re not,” I allowed, “And I’m sure if I were less tired and sick, I’d be less offensive.” Right then, I didn’t care. Also I was trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t miss too much by staying home for the day.

“It’s like that conversation the other day; you’re being a bit judgemental.”

Remember that conversation that messed me up all night? Yeah, apparently it was about me being a bit too judgemental. That’s not how I recall it. Maybe everyone’s just hearing me wrong to how I intend it. The other night, I’d commented on how the tables of Korean Catholic tourists were praying before dinner, and how we hadn’t prayed over our meals the entire trip.

“Well, that’s your responsibility!” I was told harshly then. “You can’t blame anyone but yourself for not praying!”

“I have been saying grace to myself,” I insisted. “I just thought it odd that on a Christian tour, we haven’t been saying grace, that’s all. I miss it.”

“How do you know we haven’t been saying grace?” one asked, and another added, “Our knees are raw from praying!”

In an attempt at levity, I scoffed and said, “Yeah, because Baptists are known for praying on their knees.” (That’s sarcasm, by the way).

I have no idea how we got from there to me trying to defend my Anglican church and the Anglican tradition (“we’re up and down throughout the service”), and then I was accused of saying people from other churches were wrong.

“I don’t think other churches are wrong. I consider myself anti-denominational. There are lots of traditions among Christian churches, and I think each tradition has merit. There’s nothing wrong with the various traditions, they’re just different expressions of faith and different ways of doing things.” (Also, you know, we’re commanded throughout the epistles to “keep the traditions as they were taught to us”. I have a much better time accepting a tradition more than a thousand years old than I do one that started a few hundred years ago).

How anyone could think I’m judgemental of other denominations is beyond me. I grew up non-denominational, I’ve spent formative years of my life in Baptist, Pentecostal, and low-church Anglican churches, I’ve visited Lutheran and Adventist churches, I have good friends who are Catholic, and I’m currently splitting my weekends between a traditional Anglican church and the Church of God Seventh Day.

“Although,” I couldn’t help bur point out at the time, “I’ve noticed some people at college can be very judgemental about other denominations.” It’s been a major sticking point of mine last year – one of the lecturers actually said that we shouldn’t visit other denominations in case we ‘get confused’!!!

“We shouldn’t talk about denominations,” I was told, “We should just say whether people are Christian or not Christian?”

“So you’re saying we should pass judgement on whether other people are Christian or not? How is that any different?”

Even if I’m anti-denominational, I have no problem with other people choosing to identify with one church tradition or another. But honestly, it’s one thing to observe people’s behaviour and deduce from the fact that they’re praying both before and after the meal and crossing themselves that they’re Catholic; it’s another thing completely to look at someone and say whether they’re Christian or not.

“Would you say they’re Christian?” I asked, gesturing to the Catholics.

“That’s not for us to judge.”

“It’s just that I’ve known lot’s of people from the Baptist tradition who will say right-out that Catholics aren’t Christians.”

This Christian/not-Christian thing has been a recurring theme on the trip. Yuval stated boldly the other day that he doesn’t always believe someone when they tell him they’re a Christian. “Maybe if they say they are a Believer, or a follower of Yeshua, then I will believe that they are Christian.”

Right. So I tell people, “I’m a Christian,” but he wouldn’t believe me? It’s not like I’ll go around saying “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m an Anglican”. I might say “I’m a Christian and a worship at an Anglican church at the moment”, but I’ll always identify myself first as “a Christian”.

But, according to Yuval, that’s not good enough. He doesn’t trust people’s self-identification as Christians. They’re Ethiopian Orthodox, maybe, they’ll identify themselves as Christians, but he’s not going to believe them. How can he make that decision? If someone tells me they’re a Christian, then they believe in God and follow Jesus, and I’m going to assume that’s true until it’s proved otherwise, because they’ve told me that.

“I’m a Believer,” he wants me to say. Right. A believer in what? That Jesus is God? Satan believes that! A “Christian” is someone who follows and strives to emulate Christ – it’s in the name. I may be a Believer, but I’m a Christian more to the point.

But anyway, back to this morning. I concede I was a bit harsh in calling the Upper Room and the Garden Tomb “fake”, but in all fairness, I’m sure Yuval’s going to call them that not in so few words. He can be quite emphatic about places he doesn’t think are genuine. I was trying to hold back tears from the dressing-down and just wanted to get out of the conversation at that point.

So, yeah, maybe I should have told someone about my foot last night. But I didn’t realise it was quite so bad – and it’s not like it was very bad – and it doesn’t do to complain, anyway, particularly when no-one else seems to be having any trouble. I know I’m overweight and not as fit as the rest of them, and I don’t want to seem like the stereotypical unfit fat person. I’ve conceded enough weariness on this trip – I missed climbing Mount Arbel and Tel Dan last week – I don’t want to be a burden.

Not to mention, as I said, I didn’t realise how much my foot hurt until literally when I was typing up the last post right before going to sleep last night. When I got back, I was aching all over from exhaustion and just wanted to take care of that first. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get out of some things today. Would I have tried to miss out on half a day’s sightseeing for no reason?

On a completely different topic, it seems the Great Synagogue trip was overrated because the ushers wouldn’t let them in at all, so they walked for five minutes there and back for five minutes of standing at the door peering in.

So, after finishing my tea and asking for a bag of ice from Nader (who ticks our room numbers off as we go into the dining room), I’m back up in my room elevating my foot. I expect room service will be around sometime soon, although I’ll just ask them to deal with the bathroom (all our towels are wet).

I don’t mean to imply in these posts that the whole trip has been bad. It hasn’t. I can see how it might seem that way, since I’m usually pretty tired at the end of the day, and I tend to state the negative and leave the positive to speak for itself. (I’m trying to work on that). I’ve really enjoyed a lot of things (although there are many I think I’d have enjoyed a bit more with a bit more time and walking a bit slower).

But please, please, if you get worried about me from something I’ve said in the posts, please don’t start contacting the group leaders to tell them off! I just can’t deal with the headache of being pulled aside and told off for telling people in Australia about my problems; about being told that she’s got texts telling her things that I, per the rules laid down at the beginning of the trip, should have told her first. You may have all day overnight; I might plan to say something first thing in the morning but by the time I get down to breakfast, the message has already got through the wrong channels and then I’m in trouble.

And I’m sure it’s not meant to come across like a telling off. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to; it’s not like we’re in school.” Yeah, but it seems like that. Maybe it’s because I’m immature; maybe it’s because I’m recently out of school; maybe it for who-knows-what, but it seems like we don’t get much choice in a lot. Yeah, maybe they say we do, but when it comes down to it, we get frowned at when we try to sit out of things without giving a good reason (“utter exhaustion” is not a good reason), and maybe it’s because he’s not the best with English but Yuval always comes across a little judgemental and condescending if you ask out of something.

I’m getting off-track, and I should definitely stop complaining now. I’m sure everything will seem nowhere near as bad after I’ve slept a little more. I so wanted to enjoy this trip, and see everything I could – and I have enjoyed it, for the most part. But I’m not as up for everything as some of the others in the group are. I can’t keep the pace they do. I can’t take the noise they can. I spent ten hours a day with twenty-five people, I can’t face games with them in the evenings when all I want to do is process the day and go to sleep.

I can’t believe the trip is almost over. I want to stay for longer and see more. I want to go back to some of the places and see them again. There’s so much here, and the prices of everything aside, it’s a good country to be in.

But, on the other hand, I’m glad the trip’s almost over, because I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s a relentless pace – it has to be, I suppose, to see everything. And we’re a more leisurely trip than most! I can’t imagine that. And trying to get on with twenty-five people is wearing on me, too. It’s easier with some than others, and I think sometimes I just take things the wrong way.

So please, no more texting when you’re concerned about me. I’ll be fine. I can handle it. It’s not all bad.

(Even if, right now, I feel like having a good cry and going back to sleep).

Reflective Paragraphs Week 5 – 1 Corinthians 1-3

Logo

The first three chapters are almost bookended – almost – by desperate urgings against sectarianism (1:10-17 and 3:1-4). It’s funny how Protestants claim to be following the Bible and only the Bible and not allowing human traditions to get in the way, and yet if any Christian group can be accused of sectarianism, it’s the Protestants. Just the fact that I can use the words “Christian group” should be something of a tip-off. I’ve said for a while that I find the whole concept of denominations petty and unbiblical – that’s why I won’t give a denomination for my own identity and regularly attend three or four completely different churches – but if there’s one thing that could ever lure me to Catholicism or Orthodoxy, it would be the lack of sectarianism.