Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Life of Stuff

The final weeks of July were the biggest of my year so far. For two weeks I was given the responsibility to help shape our church focus around my ministry's theme - "Care for a Hurting World". It has been such a humbling experience to have taken on that role. I am only writing now because it has taken about a month for me to finish all the follow-up, to properly process it, to and to celebrate it in my time with God before getting into the blogosphere. So here's the write-up of the first week, and the second is coming soon.

In the first week, Ash and Anji Barker came to share their stories with us. They are always challenging and inspiring, but it was good to be reminded of their humanness too, and that even in their work and lives, they also struggle with brokenness and fear. Anji spoke to us about the inconvenience of following Christ, from her experiences of God putting people in her life during times when she had other important work to do. She linked that to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, suggesting that we don't know what the priest and the Levite were on their way to do when they passed the man in need. They could have been on their way to feed many of the poor. They could have been on their way to visit a family they knew in need. Still, she reminded us about what it means to follow God's call of love beyond boundaries - that it requires time, space for relationship with God, inconvenience and is often messy - but it is good. She also pointed out that the Bible never said to answer the call for love is easy - in fact, Jesus and others talk about the clear cost of discipleship.

Ash and Anji both spoke particularly into our busy-ness, and how this often acts as a boundary to actually loving anyone. One analogy Ash used that I know connected to many people was about the ladders we climb in our lives. He said, "We spend so much of our lives climbing the social ladder, the corporate ladder, the educational ladder, the wealth ladder, and often, even when you make it to the top of this ladder...you find that the ladder is against the wrong wall." This was particularly a challenge to a church where so many people's lives - even from school days - are always incredibly busy and full of stuff.

Early in the year, I had a conversation with someone who was saying they felt disconnected from God. I asked them to draw up their week for me, and then show me where their time with God or even thinking about where God's place in what they were doing was. What we ended up with was a timetable of 90% stuff, about 25 mins possible where they thought they could think about God, and an admission that they probably wouldn't do it anyway. When I shared a similar drawing during a sermon, many people - adults, children, students, professionals, ministers, elders - felt they could identify with a life that had no room to appreciate God at work and were stirred to do something about it.

I have recently realised too that despite my efforts to block off time for God, that I still do not allow myself to appreciate God at work. Even in my set-aside time, I make it about what I am going to do, what I will read/pray/write/sing/reflect on in that time, instead of just sitting and listening. It is not surprising that often if I do feel God is saying something to me, it is: "Shut up and listen." The other day I sat in the sunshine for a good hour, shoes off, and had one of those moments when you are reminded that life isn't all bad, but was made and intended to be good; that it is not all under my control, that I am not responsible for 'fixing it', but merely walking humbling with my God in it; and that I just don't spend enough time appreciating beauty. I wrote in big letters in my journal, "A life starved of beauty allows us to only concentrate and express the ugly." And the past month or so has been such a good time spent sitting regularly just appreciating God at work, being grateful for beautiful things, and it has helped me operate out of a much healthier space.

I will post soon about the next week of the series - and something that happened that was one of the most beautiful stories I have been privileged to be part of.

PS. Also... we got a puppy. He's pretty special himself:

Currently nameless. Suggestions?

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I am not going to write much about the carbon tax. I think of the tax as a beginning step, like a baby's - not fully co-ordinated, not ready to really call walking yet, but still, a significant thing. Australia has to do something, and this is a mostly positive something that will hopefully encourage and influence bigger and better somethings.

There are already scare campaigns in play, and there will be more. For more information that isn't designed to make you believe your entire life is about to be destroyed, these are some resources I found helpful and informative:
  • Get Up!

  • Phil Ireland's post on the Micah Challenge Blog - "Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this whole debate is the self centred nature of it. It makes sense that people are concerned for how this will affect them, but if that means they lose sight of the reality that climate change is a far greater problem for the world's poor, then we have missed the boat - particularly as Christians." (Click link to read all of it).
  • This is not about the carbon tax, but the Robin Hood Tax. If you've never heard of it, I encourage you to head to the website and read up. Sign the petition, share it with people, write letters to your MPs about it, pray for change. And here's a little video that helps too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Love and Justice

Just following up with a bit of writing. This is something I wrote for church in the week following Osama Bin Laden's death. Whilst that event has passed, the human instinct to respond to violence with violence has not. I know this because, as you may have noticed in my previous post, I am often tempted to respond that way. Around me, recent conversations and responses to issues of asylum seekers and refugees, the new state of South Sudan, and climate change, amongst many others, have often shown glimpses of the same ugly attitude. I continue to pray the same prayer that ends this article.

“ROT IN HELL” and “Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard”. These were the headlines plastered across newsstands in the USA this week, messages of violence and hateful triumph that are sadly expected from some members of the media sector. They revealed very clear attitudes as to how ‘justice’ is achieved, how things are ‘made right’, how ‘good’ prevails – and they all revolved around violence and revenge, giving the ‘bad guys’ what they ‘deserve’.

As I talked to people and watched the waves of responses on the internet, it was interesting to see how our brothers and sisters that confess to follow Jesus reacted to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. And it filled me with sadness to be reminded that, even if we do not spout messages as explicit as the tabloids (mostly!) we often still sell short the glory of the Gospel. In the face of violence – whether from American or Taliban forces – we are tempted to believe that the only possible responses are ‘fight’ or ‘flight’.

When we choose to fight, we fuel the cycle of violence. We try to out-hurt each other until someone ‘wins’. In the case of war, tragically, heart-breakingly, we have seen (and still not learnt) that this defeat often never comes, and is only met with more lives being consumed. Just as gut-wrenching, nations can go to war waving a banner that says ‘God is on our side’, whilst they fight nations carrying a carbon-copy of that banner – both parties believing that God has signed his name on their bullets, that he has ok’d the destruction of lives. I cannot believe in a God of love that wished death upon Osama Bin Laden, no matter how heinous his crimes. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, he did not mean, “Unless you have a really good reason, in which case, go ahead and kill them.”

To flee in response to violence, or merely stand back and remain passive simply allows destruction to take place. This is not a more or less suitable alternative to ‘fight’, it is equally inadequate. Jesus did not say, “Be indifferent to your enemies,” or “Ignore your enemies”.

As people of faith, we believe that Jesus was God’s answer, a different way to break free from the pain game. People waiting for the Messiah expected a brawny, militant warrior to rise up and lead the people over the Roman Empire. What they got instead was a man that carried the disarming weapon of love, whose service in suffering was to take on the entire sins of the world – yours, mine, Barack Obama’s, Julia Gillard’s, Osama Bin Laden’s, everyone’s.

Together, we must mourn the destruction of all lives – those lost in 9/11, those lost in the violence following, those of the allied soldiers, and those of the Al Qaeda. Together, we must pray for the kingdom to come, for the real power of love to be present in place of war and violence and through that, for God’s justice to prevail. Together, we must understand that God calls us to participate in the story of love, that we are not called to stand idly by or pick up our weapons, but to beat our swords into ploughs, take up our cross and love our enemies from it.

It is likely many of you will have read this MLK Jr. quote already, but this only affirms the power of its truth:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Lord, forgive us our sins, only as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into the temptation of turning to armies, war, hatred, and violence as we seek justice; but deliver us from evil, as only your amazing, grace-full love can.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

A Note

Last night, I wrote this to some people I love and trust:

Today I am heartbroken. Today I am overwhelmed. I am not normally afraid. But today I am frightened.

How do I continue to expose myself to all the hurt and injustices of the world – within my neighbourhood, my church, my place of study, my country, countries overseas, within my very life – and not simply be swallowed up by them? I cannot. How do I advocate for the humanity of my brothers and sisters, without being exposed for the hypocrite I am, with a life that often diminishes the humanity of others? I cannot. How do I answer God’s call to love my neighbour when I feel like I am coming from a place that seems so loveless? I cannot. How do I even just relax for once and accept that I am not the one God intended to ‘save the world’? Most days, it seems I cannot even do this.

I struggle to be gentle in nature, because I am also violent in attitude. I see so many holes in the attitudes and actions of those around me – a government that is broken; a church that is equally fragmented; Christians that are unknowingly racist; faith that is privatised and separate from other places in life; ignorance and apathy to the plight of the suffering; a gospel preached that is otherwise than the Gospel, when Jesus’ simultaneous heart for me and for the poor, weary, hungry and hurting are divorced from each other – and I see them through eyes of judgment, ignorant of my own gaping flaws. My high horse is well-fed. I do not know how to see others through the eyes of Jesus. Often, I do not know how to see or accept how Jesus sees me.

It seems very tempting to see my life before I met Jesus as easier, better, simpler. I never felt so guilty. I never felt so burdened. I never had to think so much. Often, the things I feel like I want to do now, I could just do then. I feel like I’ve built up whatever life with God looks like into its very own shiny idol. I have allowed relationships to become items on checklists, faith to become job, and have not actually allowed love to be free. I could keep looking back and turn the past into an idol too.

Still, I know that my life is forever changed for the better. I know that despite my blindness, I have caught a few brief glimpses of the Kingdom and they have captured me like nothing else. I ask the above questions and it seems I must answer with, “I cannot.” But ask me if I can stop foolishly chasing after this God who has changed my life, and I will also answer, “I cannot.”

I could resolve this note, round it into something nice. But I think today, it is appropriate to sit in this fragile space. Tomorrow, I may feel completely different, but right now – and more than usual lately – this is where I am at. My writing is melodramatic, but my feelings are real. I share this note with you because I trust you and respect you. I guess it’d be good to know other people feel like this too, so I don’t let you become superhumans in my eyes as well. And if you don’t, that’s ok. I’ll just imagine you in tights and lasers shooting from your eyes from now on.