Sunday Everyday

Advent Reflection by Paul Hansen

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Paul Hansen is the  International TEAR Program Officer for Nepal.

TEAR Australia is a movement of Christians in Australia responding to the needs of poor communities around the world. Our motivation comes from our belief that God loves all people, and in Christ offers them the opportunity of a new life. We believe that God is just, and has particular care for the poor and those who suffer as victims of injustice.

We work in partnership with other Christian groups, including churches, relief and development agencies and community-based organisations, which are working with the poor in their communities. We seek to build effective relationships with these partners, grounded in mutual respect, trust and accountability.

Advent Reflection by Paul Hansen

I travelled up a long bumpy dusty road to a village in Nepal near the Tibetan border. Stopped at a tin shed house (temporary housing following earthquake) where the couple who owned us made a great dahl baht and especially extended one of the beds to accommodate me (see photo).

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As we were getting ready for the night, I couldn’t see where the owners were staying, so I asked them where they would sleep tonight.

“We’ll sleep outside tonight” they said.

“Cold” I said.

“We’ll manage” they replied. And they did.

I don’t think I’ve ever offered to sleep outside to accommodate a guest. I’m not sure I would.

What does it mean to be excluded, shut out and turned away? Thankfully, for most in our church community these experiences are rare.  I read #TEARAdvent reflection on making room.    Its on the story we all know of Joseph and Mary finding no room in the inn & at the end Greg Hewson gives a reflection:

It is a powerful reminder that the Christ we celebrate at Christmas comes in the form of the stranger. It calls us to open our hearts and our minds to the fact that this is the reality for many in the world. And prompts us to think about how, during Advent and beyond, we can continue to make room in our own lives for God, our neighbours and others.

A good question, but what does it feel like when those on the margins intentionally make room for the powerful and wealthy?

Humbling.

 

 

Life After Death

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Life after Death

by

Lisa Hunt-Wotton

This piece of writing is extremely personal for me.  I wrote this just months after my beloved husband Ken died.  I was trying to make sense of what had happened.  Trying to put into words the shock, and disbelief, the insanity of it all.  To be honest I had forgotten about this piece and found it yesterday completely by accident whilst I was visiting my mother.  So 17 years on I thought that maybe it is time to air my grief.  Maybe it will help put into words the pain that some of you have faced at the loss of someone you loved so very deeply.

Birth of a Romance

When I was 8 and Ken was 11 years of age, our romance began to grow.   We met at Sunday School,  we were childhood sweethearts, best best friends and later husband and wife.  When Ken was 11 he prayed every night for a year that he would marry Lisa Cooper.  In all the things that we faced together as children, and through our teens: the divorce of our parents, the death of Kens brother Drew, the death of our nephew Christopher and many other sadnesses, we never once thought that we would ever be apart.  We never anticipated that death would separate us.

1999 –  a Meditation on Grief

When you are told that your husband has terminal brain cancer your life takes on a surreal quality.  Like a jittery old movie reel, time begins to freeze frame by frame.  As if your brain can only digest such unpalatable information piece by piece.  The graveness of the doctor’s faces, the taut pensive look of the nurses, the turquoise sky blazing outside the rural hospital window, the blankness in your husband’s eyes.  All are indelibly etched in your mind like polaroid photographs.  These pictures stun you long before the words have any meaning.

Disbelief gives way to shock which seeps into your veins like a benevolent anesthetic.  This numbness allows you to voice the unthinkable.  To patiently inform children, parents, siblings and loving friends that the man they love is sick and that the doctors can’t fix him.  Some instinct tells you to speak to them carefully, gently, like fragile children.  You know that the power of your words will break hearts and change lives.

At this stage, while grief is still fresh and young, you manage to survive the onslaught of medical terminology, procedures, advice, and unfamiliar hospital culture.  Like a lost pilgrim in a strange land everything is foreign and fearful.  Grief calmly accepts the unacceptable.  Logic is banished like an unfaithful lover.  Yesterday’s catastrophes of a broken cello and a twelve year olds braces has been eclipsed by this sinister intangible malignancy.

I am told that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun.  How do I find the faith to stand, the faith to remain, while death tolls the bell for one who has only lived half a lifetime.

What authority ordered this death sentence?

What crime did he commit?

What judge decreed a wife is displaced by sickness and sorrow?

As days blur into weeks shock gives way to reality.  Despair waits patiently in the wings, readily pulling you down into black boggy ground.  Weariness becomes a constant companion and anger rises and falls in your chest like a dangerous tide.

Jesus, you are my rock, my saviour.  Where would I be without you by my side?  Without your presence in my life I fear the battle would defeat me.  Despair would claim me in that miry clay.  Weariness would consume me and anger would destroy everything good and precious.  I know for I fight these enemies well.

The psalmist recalls:

 “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps”.

Christ did not heal my husband.

He did not raise him from the dead.

He did lift me up out of the arms of despair and placed me firmly upon himself.  It is on this solid rock that I make my stand.

I am hard pressed on every side, I am perplexed and struck down, but I am not crushed, forsaken nor destroyed.  A new journey has begun.  My hope is on my God, the Father of compassion and comfort.

Now hear my prayer my meditation:  As I press on through the valley of the shadow of death, may I find springs of water to refresh and replenish me, showers of rain  to bless and sustain me.  May He guide my steps and establish my path so that I may be found in Him and go on from strength to strength.

 

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Love Lisa

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Forty Years in a Narrow Space

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Every now and then you meet someone or you come across something that is life changing.  This article ‘Forty Years in a Narrow Space’ was this for me.  Finally someone had put into words everything that I had been feeling, experiencing.  Someone else had walked the same road as me and was a little further down the track.   I was not alone.  

I was not alone was the resounding Ah Haaaa moment for me.  I thought that I was lost, alone and possibly going a little crazy.  Then along comes Leonard and puts language to my experience.  Gives me a road map for the new landscape.  There are so many amazing words of wisdom in this piece that I recommend,  like me, that you print it off and have it close by you.

Forty Years in a Narrow Space is posted with permission from Leonard Hjalarson.

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“I am an author, pastor and missional navigator living in the Thunder Bay region of Ontario. My wife and I are pastoral elders at First Baptist Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a hopeful community.

My particular interests are in leadership, spirituality, mission and semiotics in the context of postmodern culture. I am an adjunct professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also adjunct at Tyndale Seminary, Torontoand at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland. I am an advisor and mentor in the Leadership in Global Perspectives program at George Fox.

My page on Academia.edu.

Forty Years in a Narrow Space Leonard Hjalmarson

Sometimes the best map will not guide youYou can’t see what’s round the bend,sometimes the road leads through the dar placesSometimes the darkness is your fiend.1

One April Sunday my family and I visited a young church community in our town. On the way to the meeting we noticed two very different restaurant signs. The first invited, “Come in from the cold; warm food and hot drinks.” The second proclaimed, “Swing into spring. Escape the heat with our smoothies and frappacinos.”

 

Contradiction is one of the elements of liminality. Is it winter, or spring? When the seasons are in transition, and the old season hasn’t quite given way to the new, we don’t know quite what kind of weather to expect or even how to dress on a given morning. When we walk out the door it might be hot, or it might be cold. Worse, it may start out warm then shift to cold while we are on the road. We are plunged into uncertainty.

 

When the church is in transition, the same kind of confusion surfaces. Even casual conversations can become complex, with people using language in very different ways. “Church” and “evangelism” and even “Christian” carry baggage they didn’t once possess. We struggle for definition, even reacting against it. Moving from a Baptist gathering to an E Free gathering becomes an experience in cultural shift, even within the same town.

 

Liminality is a place in between. It is emptiness and nowhere. Adolescence is the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. But liminality is more than a point along the way to somewhere else. It represents anti-structure to structure, chaos to order. The place between two world views is a liminal place. It is a place of dying and rebirth, even of metamorphosis, the place where the caterpillar spins its cocoon and disappears from view. Liminality is Israel in the desert, Jesus in the tomb.

Reality is that place between the sea and the foam. Irish Proverb

The Latin word limina means threshold. Liminality is where all transformation happens. It is when we are betwixt and between, and therefore by definition “not in control.” Nothing new happens as long as we are inside our self-constructed comfort zone. Much of our day to day effort at life is toward maintaining our personal little world. Richard Rohr comments that,

“Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. This is why much of the work of God is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space.. maybe the only one. Most spiritual giants try to live lives of “chronic liminality” in some sense. They know it is the only position that insures ongoing wisdom, broader perspective and ever-deeper compassion. The Jewish prophets… St. Francis, Gandhi, and John the Baptist come to mind.” 2

Liminal space tends to be counterintuitive. In liminal space we need to walk in the opposite direction. We not eat instead of eat – we remain silent instead of talking. We search for emptiness instead of fullness. In liminal space we descend and intentionally do not ascend; “status reversal” instead of status-seeking. We indulge in shadow boxing instead of ego confirmation.

Few of us choose liminal space. Instead, God usually has to engineer the journey. Someone we trusted fails us; a job we counted on suddenly ends; a child or spouse dies; we are struck blind on the road to Emmaus. Once we arrive there, we are disinclined to call it home. This is why spiritual directors and counselors are often sought in times of transition.. we need outward support and encouragement to endure liminal space. On our own we tend to run for security, back to the familiar gardens of Egypt.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not. And what you do not know is the only thing you know And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.3

Four years ago my wife and I stepped out of an organized faith community (the pond), into the large ocean. The ecology of the pond is highly structured. Roles are set and the rules for changing them are well established. Expectations, traditions, even meanings are non-negotiable. When you swim in the same pond every day for a year or two, you learn the names and the language, and you know who you are. The world closes in; the pond is all there is. There is a high degree of predictability, and that contributes to comfort and security…and boredom and self-deception (Rohr: “the mind only takes pictures using the film with which it is loaded.”)

It ain’t the same in the ocean. Have you ever experienced tidal waters? Or large predatory fish? How about a storm at sea? Do you know how deep the waters get in the Laurentian Abyssal? Forget the scuba gear, it won’t take you there.

We left a secure place where we knew the rules for uncharted waters where nothing was certain. That process launched us into an emotional and spiritual journey that we did not expect, and barely knew how to articulate. We had to learn to see in new ways, to listen in new ways, and then learn a new language to describe what we were seeing. We thought we had been using a good lens; it turned out our professional camera was a $49 Wal-Mart special with fixed focal length, 35mm and f4. What had been a predictable and understandable world became unpredictable and mysterious. We had embarked on an unplanned journey with an unknown destination, without maps and with little light. We didn’t have any recent stories to guide us, and no friends or mentors to emulate.

About the same time we left one community, we visited another. A woman was sharing from the early life of that community, and she quoted from a sermon titled, “Going, but not knowing,” based on the life of Abraham.

If you haven’t looked into the book of Hebrews recently, I encourage you to do so. It’s difficult to grasp what a life of hope and faith is like while living in our security focused culture. Elizabeth O’Connor, one of the founders of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC writes that, “Our chance to be healed comes when the waters of our life are disturbed.”

Risk.. faith.. moving ahead into the unknown.. Which of us really embraces such a journey? We prefer the well worn pathways. And besides, we are “found” and not lost, right? We know the Bible has all the answers, right? 4

 

Outside the Comfort Zone

The more you see, the less you know,

The less you find out as you go,

I knew much more then than I do now…5

What happens when an entire culture moves into liminality? It isn’t just language and philosophy that is shifting, the entire culture is on the move. As a result our individual identities no longer seem secure. Identity is referenced to particular communities and worldviews, to the broader socio-economic and cultural realities. When the context itself is changing rapidly, our individual identities experience similar fluidity. Suddenly the question, “Who am I?” takes on new poignancy, producing personal anxiety and feelings of pain and loss. 6

German sociologist Ulrich Beck describes this shift in his book, “Risk Society.”7 He discerns three phases of modern culture, culminating in the most recent phase of “reflexive modernity.” This is a world which no longer trusts institutions or employs them to anchor personal identity. Instead of placing a high value on loyalty to corporations and structures, the forces of individualism and the power of knowledge have generated a class of people who maximize their personal power of agency for their own benefit. Self is now the primary agent of meaning.. a tenuous meaning that has resulted in a new search for community and for something larger than the self.

 

Gone are the days of the Beverly Hillbillies, where roles and relationships were set in stone. I recall one episode where Jethro, the nephew, is sitting on the step of the mansion in Beverly Hills, elbow on knee, head resting on his elbow, looking as thoughtful as Jethro can look. Granny comes out the door, carrying a storm of feeling with her.

“Jethro, what in tarnation are you doin settin here?” “I is bein a angry young man.”Her hard face looking suddenly puzzled, Granny asks, “What in tarnation is a angry young man?”

“Oh, you sets around an asks yourself questions, like “Who am I?

Where am I goin? What am I doin?”

New clarity having arrived, Granny responds, “Well, I is an angry old granny, an you is Jethro Bodine, an you is goin into the kitchen to wash the dishes.”

Hmm, not exactly spiritual direction. Things were so simple then.

If this kind of shift is a problem for those choosing it, consider those simply being swept along in the tide. Pastors and elders attempting to lead traditional communities may have been exposed to Leonard Sweet, but they haven’t had time to read Ulrich Beck, or New Zealand sociologist Alan Jamieson (“Ten Myths About Church Leavers”) or even Reggie McNeal. They feel responsible to hold together dying or fragmenting communities, but they have no framework to understand the tidal forces around them and no tools with which to shore up crumbling foundations. Raising questions about accepted methods or values can rattle the cage of other leaders around them, who may respond with defensiveness or fear.

At the ALLELON forum in Eagle, Idaho in September, 2004, Alan Roxburgh presented a story that remains definitive to the life and identity of a tribe of nomads. (Nomads are better than most of us at change and insecurity, because they wander in the wilderness without maps).

Alan pointed out that Israel was called out of bondage in Egypt, and called toward the land of Promise. But they had to first pass through the desert. In that place, their greatest desire was not to move forward, but to return to the life of predictability they had known.

Alan noted that scholars maintain that these stories were written down while Israel was in captivity in Babylon. While living in exile in a foreign land, Israel was doing theology.. rehearsing stories that shaped them as a people, and talking about issues of faithfulness. Israel’s most creative work was done when they were a marginalized people, no longer a dominant force in the nation, no longer setting the pace.

This is one of the benefits of liminality.. we let go of the old answers and begin to ask new questions. We return to the ancient text looking for clues. Liminality is a tremendously creative place, a formless place of possibility where the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. We ask new questions, because a faith that no longer connects with experienced reality no longer makes sense. The answers while wandering in the desert are different than the answers that work when settled in the city. What worked while framed in modernity can get you killed in postmodernity. A theology of hegemony, when the church is at the center, will not be useful when the church is on the fringes.

“I will carry the Ring to Mordor.. though I do not know the way.” 8

I am fascinated with Israel’s paradigmatic story. For forty years Israel wandered in the desert, neither at home nor at rest, not having reached the land promised to them since Abraham, or to Joseph or Moses. We see some of the tension in the story itself.. Moses is accused of bad leadership, God is accused of not caring. There is dissension and confusion. Quick answers (unhelpful) are tossed about. Old idols are resurrected.

When the church on the corner stopped making sense for my family, and in fact generated more peril than promise, we left it and entered a liminal place. Our personal sense of identity was called into question, by ourselves and others. Were we still believers? Were we rebellious? Were we better than everyone else? Were we proud and divisive? Was God involved in our journey outside the walls, or were we deceived?

We wrestled with guilt and grief, and sometimes depression and anger. We found ourselves avoiding old friends, because our questions and actions were upsetting to them. We needed a safe place to process, but it was difficult to find one with people of faith. The Christian monoculture we knew had no place for us. We were calling into question too many things that were simply “givens.” While the crowd was settled in a temple based culture, we were wandering in the desert in tents.

To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake, to kill, our narrower vision. In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road of spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything. 9

We found ourselves bothered by the certainty of those around us. “Surely everything is just fine,” sounded a lot like “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” If everything was fine, then the problem was indeed with us. Or was it? Was the problem systemic, and not really personal at all? Was the “problem” a part of something that God was doing? Were the growing numbers of Christians who named no “church” as their home representing a general shaking and awakening to a whole new set of issues? Was there a cultural disconnect occurring, and was God opening our eyes to see it? Why did our large church have so little impact on the community around? And was the exodus of believers from the corner fortress God’s plan to reconnect us with our neighbors? Was the old church dying as a new church was being imagined?

Certitude itself became a problem. We found ourselves in arguments about learning and change with those who claimed to be disciples (followers and learners). Walter Brueggemann writes,”

We all have a hunger for certitude, and the problem is that the Gospel is not about certitude, it’s about fidelity. So what we all want to do if we can is immediately transpose fidelity into certitude, because fidelity is a relational category and certitude is a flat, mechanical category. So we have to acknowledge our thirst for certitude and then recognize that if you had all the certitudes in the world it would not make the quality of your life any better because what we must have is fidelity.”10

We were shaken loose from our answers, to seek a deeper connection with truth. We turned away from propositions to a Person. When we left our faith community we heard a new voice calling us to “Follow Me.” We forsook certainty for covenant faith, and a settled place for a journey.

Some years down the road I had a dream. I was standing on the shore of what looked like a great river. I looked up, and towering over my head I saw the span of a huge bridge. But this bridge was unusual.. it stopped in mid stream. It was a bridge to nowhere, and I was intensely puzzled when I saw it.

But as I gazed at the span over my head, suddenly the bridge spanned the river and grounded on the other side. It was a miraculous act of God. It didn’t require human ingenuity or invention. It required the intervention and power of God, and then the connection was complete.

The dream is both hopeful and problematic. There is a need for a bridge to connect the old culture and the rising culture. There is a need for a bridge to connect the last generation with the rising generation, and established leaders with new leaders. There is a need to bridge the gap between people of faith and seekers. There is a need to connect old knowledge with new. Many of us feel caught in the collision between the new culture and the old, stuck with old maps, caught between the need for security and familiarity and the need for change.. and we are searching for a way to move forward. We need to find ways to rest and wait on the Lord in confidence that He is at work, listening for His voice as we imagine new ways of being the church.

Margaret Wheatley, discussing the poetic wisdom of TS Eliot, captures the paradox and pain of liminality as “the opposing poles of paradox.” 11

If you would save your life, you must lose it. If you would thrive in the new world, you must dissolve your old form. Letting go is the only path to safety. Surrounded by so much truth, it’s a puzzle how we ever came to deny it. Did we ever really believe we could proceed through life by growing all the time, new and improved at every turn? How did the shadow disappear from our pursuit of the light? When did we forget that “there must be opposition in all things.” When did we stop acknowledging the great space for discovery that is created by the opposing poles of paradox?

 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.12

 

Stumbling Forward: Disciplines of Readiness

 

One day a disciple came to his master and asked,

“Master, what can I do to become enlightened?”
The master replied, “As much as you can do to make the sun rise.”

Confused, the disciple replied, “Then of what use are all these disciplines?”

The Master said, “So that when the sun begins to rise, you do not miss it.” 13

Most of us are experiencing the dynamics of transition. We no longer know what the church is.. and as a result we aren’t sure who we are either. We don’t know what that building on the corner is supposed to do or to mean. We aren’t sure we want to support large mortgages or even professional leaders.

We have questions about the nature of community and belonging. We have questions about form and freedom and intentionality. We are trying to escape the dualism of Christendom, and discover the meaning of a whole life in relation to God, instead of a Sunday or meeting centered life. We are trying to rediscover the Gospel Jesus preached.

In his book “The Search to Belong,” Joseph Myers talks about “transitional phases” in chemistry. Water is in a transitional phase when it is becoming ice, or heated to become steam. For a while it has the characteristics of both stages, but is truly neither.

We are not who we were, and not yet who we will become. It is a time of great awkwardness as we seek for a way to move forward, but sense we are traveling in circles.. no longer at home in the church and not at rest in the world. And this transitional place is complicated by the reality that so many are at different stages of comfort in the journey.. some beginning it with pain and anxiety, possibly feeling very alone or grieving what they left behind, even defending their right NOT to change; others have stepped outside their comfort zones and are asking new questions about culture, change, and the kingdom of God. Some are more comfortable than others with uncertainty and are discovering a new sense of belonging in a new kind of community.

 

In the introduction to “A New Kind of Christian” Brian McLaren presents a very simple diagram of transition. Picture an hour glass on its side. It is wide at both ends, and narrow in the middle. The space in the middle, the place of the pressure, is the place of transition. We begin in a wide place, a comfortable place, journey through discomfort, and arrive again at a new place.

It gets more complex than this, however, because in one sense liminality is the place we all arrive in these days. We arrive less certain, less secure, and with more questions than when we started. And we realize suddenly that this is not going to be a quick journey; it might take forty years. But our hope is to arrive in community. In fact, if we do not make this journey toward community, there is no real hope that liminality will result in transformation.

Friendship .. and community .. are critical pieces in the journey forward. In order to embrace the new we have to grieve the loss of the old. Few of us are capable of doing that work alone: grief requires community and friendship.

Likewise imagination and learning require friendship. One of the wonderful things about the Internet is the way it allows people to connect in relatively non-threatening environments. As we discover that we are not alone on this insecure journey, we become more ok with insecurity. This increased level of comfort actually empowers us to explore transitional places more deeply. We increase the power of our learning and discovery, even as we multiply it among friends. Anxiety pushes us into conditioned responses (fight or flight); safety allows us to move forward and explore the unknown with open hands and open hearts.

 

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Photo:  jens johnssonGagnef, Sweden

Our ability to move forward requires us to embrace diversity of thought and imagination. We need forums and safe places where people can shed their roles and identities and need for control, in order to become learners together. Rosemary Neave comments on the power of networks that,

“Networks move us beyond isolated bursts of creativity and life to see patterns emerging, and perhaps inspire others to make links and get involved. Many [emerging] groups are small and fragile.. networking helps them see themselves as part of a larger picture..” 14

Victor Turner, in his classic study of initiation, The Ritual Process, says that some kind of “shared liminality” is necessary to create what he calls communitas, or what we generally call church. Communitas in a spiritual sense does not come from manufactured celebrations or events. Attending lots of meetings won’t do it. Even parties and prayer meetings won’t cut it. They depend on artificial stimulants of food, drink, music, shared common space and energy: lovely and probably necessary, but not transforming. True communitas comes from having walked through liminality together — and coming out the other side — forever different. It happens in AA groups all the time.

Our ability to create these places will in part determine whether we are transformed and move forward as the people of God in this time.

“We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.

“To allow that unlearning, we have to accept what is often difficult, particularly for people in what appears to be a successful culture. We have to accept that we share a mass cultural trance, a hypnotic trance. We’re all sleepwalkers. We human beings do not naturally see. We have to be taught how to see.” 15

The questions most of us are asking are both simple and complex, depending on our gifts and interests. They range from the personal, “How do I survive in this in between place?” to “How do I help this community move forward from a closed fortress to a missional vision?” or, “How can our community connect with the emerging culture?”

More foundational questions surround both theology and practice: what does leadership look like in this in-between place? What kinds of structures will facilitate authentic transformation in this community? What sorts of disciplines are necessary to help us prepare for the changes we will face in the next decade? How can we facilitate the kinds of environments necessary for healthy and sustained growth in the kingdom of God in this city? How can we become a people that welcome Spirit?

Perhaps we can make this transition in less than forty years. For Israel, the years in the desert were necessary to shed their memories of foreign gods. Like Israel, we accommodated so much to modernity, the hope of technology, and the doctrine of progress that we all but lost our distinctiveness as God’s people.

We worshiped the idols of rationalism, power, and wealth. We, like Israel, have oppressed weaker people for the sake of our own benefit. The Gospel became a means of protecting ourselves from the fallen world, instead of a means to invite the fallen world to His table. While we claimed to be concerned for the lost and for the redemption of the world, we isolated ourselves into comfortable clubs and fortresses.

The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God — sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert or listening to a Creed CD.” 16

We sacrificed the heart of the gospel in order to build and maintain religious temples and empires. We didn’t really challenge people to live transformed lives. We were content to commission a few missionaries while most of us lived at rest in a land of plenty.

The answers that made sense in the old context no longer work. In the heat of the desert, we are rediscovering who God is and who we are. Religious idols are beginning to crumble as we break free of our addiction to the culture and our addiction to power and control.

Now, however, the church is moving from the center to the margins.

Marginalization is a blessing. When we had a vested interest in the status quo, we could not see that the Emperor had no clothes. “Marginality, in short, leaves the church free, if it is faithful, to cherish its absurdity; establishment just makes it fall in love all over again with the irrelevant respectability of the world’s wisdom and power.” 17 In times of great unrest, margins are places of immense creativity.

This sense of homelessness – this exilic experience – plays a large part, I believe, in the recent phenomena of the growth of interest in intentional Christian communities within North American, European, and Australian cultures.

Their critically suspicious verve is directed not simply toward the institutional church, but toward the whole social-symbolic order of modern, Western Christianity. 18

This history makes understandable the theological suggestion of Miroslav Volf that “the center is not the place where Christian faith should be anyway: it was born on the margins to serve the whole humanity … social marginality is not to be bemoaned but celebrated.” 19 We do not celebrate our loss of influence, but that the influence we have will be more authentic, based on lived example and not rhetoric. We do not celebrate that we have lost our political power, but we celebrate that the weakness of the Cross is our strength. We recognize that a faith that exists on the margins contains a stronger resonance with apostolic faith, and that a witness from the margins, freed from the hegemony of the empire, is more likely to be free from the temptations of our culture and more true to the character of Jesus who stepped away from power and status to establish communitas.

 

Featured Image by
Ashim D’SilvaEastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, United States

 

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on line since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.Thanks for considering.Love Lisa

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References:

 

 

1 Bruce Cockburn, “Pacing the Cage.” From The Charity of Night, 1995. Golden Mountain Music Corporation. BMI.2 Richard Rohr. “Days Without Answers in a Narrow Space.” National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 2002

3 T.S. Eliot, “East Coker III,” in Four Quartets (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971) http://www.nextreformation.com

4Within Christian thought two large theological traditions exist: kataphatic and apophatic theologies. Kataphatic theology characterizes the Western Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions where theology is constructed along the lines of propositional affirmative statements about who God is. Apophatic theology characterizes the Eastern Orthodox traditions where theology is constructed with less emphasis on cognitive affirmations (though they are not negated), and more on the wonder, awe, ineffability of God.5 U2, “City of Blinding Lights,” from How to Dismantle an Atom Bomb (London: Universal Music Publishing, 2005)6 See Walter Brueggemann’s note on ministry and grief at the end of the end of the revised edition of The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001)7 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society (London: Sage Publications, 1992)

8 Frodo in Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” (Wellington, NZ: New Line Productions Inc. 2001)

9 M. Scott Peck, source unknown.
10 Walter Brueggemann, quoted at the Emergent Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, September 16, 2004.

11 Margaret Wheatley. “Consumed by Either Fire or Fire,” Journal of Noetic Science, 1999.
12 T.S. Eliot , “East Coker III,” in Four Quartets (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971)13 Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat . Spiritual Literacy (New York: Touchstone Books, 1998)

14 Rosemay Neave. “Reimagining the Church.” Study Leave Report for the Women’s Resource Center. Waipu, NZ, 1996.15 Richard Rohr. Everything Belongs (New York, NY: Crossroads Books, 2000)

16 Reggie McNeal. The Present Futur ( San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003) 59.17 Robert F. Capon. The Astonished Heart (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996) 64.
18 Ibid. 103.
19 Miroslav Volf, “Theology, Meaning and Power: A Conversation with George Lindbeck on Theologyand the Nature of Christian Difference,” in The Nature of Confession. Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation, ed. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 64.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Way to BE Church

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A New Way to Be Church by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

I have lived my life going to church.  I spent the first 38 years of my life in a conservative fundamentalist cult.  Then the next 14 years in a pentecostal mega church.  In each place I was in ministry and leadership.  I have recently spent the last 2 years  ‘getting unchurched’.  Finding myself and finding out what it is that I actually believe in.  You can read more about my struggle in the article that I wrote called: “My Wrestle With the Modern Church”.

I live in the green, leafy village of Warrandyte nestled alongside the Yarra River in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne Australia.  We adore our village.  We love the walks along the river, we love our neighbours, the shop owners, chefs and wait staff in the many shops in this little tourist village.   We do life together.

It seemed a natural progression to wander down to check out the ‘new’ cafe that had just opened up called “Now and Not Yet“.  The locals were full of stories and rumours about this new place and at one stage we even boycotted it because of some silly story that was going around.   But like any small community you eventually bump into people and the real story emerges.

I started off going there to write the blog and have a coffee.  They had free internet and good coffee so it was a great place for me to work.  It turns out the the cafe is an emerging church plant.

The core value of the cafe is to ‘be a redeeming presence in the community’.

It was several weeks before I realised any of this.  As conversations were made and relationships began, I started to understand the ethos behind this place.  It wasn’t actually covert but most people who walked into the cafe would not have any idea that the place was a church.  They would however find out first that it was a community endeavour.  That it was a place where they were accepted, and could make their own.  It was a place where you could chat and settle in and feel at home.    Gradually I became a regular and got to know the other groupies that were coming for the friendship and space to work.

About 6 months into this Derek, the cafe community leader, asked me if I would be interested in managing the studio space within the cafe that was currently vacant.   18 months down the track the studio “Create Space” is a vibrant artists community of around 30 artists.  Warrandyte is full of artists, many of whom work alone from home.  Create Space is a community for artists who now make NNY Cafe their home.

Create Space is an artist run collaboration that aims to create community and shared experiences for artists based in the Melbourne Warrandyte area.

Artists work during the day on different projects, fine art, clay, ceramics, glass, writing and wire sculpture. Workshops happen from time to time and art classes often run during the day. It is a collaborative and empowering space.

As a non for profit enterprise,  artists use the studio for no charge and they are also able to sell their work without paying any commission.  In return most of the artists volunteer in the cafe from time to time.

I now call Now and Not Yet my community home.  I am now ‘being’ church in a completely different way than I have ever been before.  It is all about ‘being’ the presence of God instead of talking about or looking for the presence of God.  Instead of teaching on evangelism,  I am living it.  There are no worship bands, sermons or structured and programmed meetings.

It is incredible to see the Spirit of God moving in every conversation and each connection so easily, so freely and so suprisingly.   There is no agenda or end game, it is all about authentic relationships, it’s about loving one another and it’s about being present in the moment and allowing God to make the connection.

Here are three examples of conversations that have happened recently and are very typical of what happens in the cafe.  In fact now I work from home because on the days when I am in the cafe the chatting and relating just never stops.

1:  I was writing for the blog when this 50 + lady interrupted me.

“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been watching you working on your computer and I can’t stop staring at you.  I hope you don’t think I’m weird or something but you just have so much joy and love pouring off you.  Would you mind if I just chatted with you for a few min before I leave?”  I said of course have a seat.

So we sat and chatted.  She wanted to know what this place was because as soon as she walked in she felt an overwhelming peace.   She didn’t know how to process it.  As she talked with me, she shared about her adult daughter who is deep into a cancer journey.  She shared her grief and as she was leaving I asked if I could pray for her.  She said that she would like that

2:  Another day I was working as one of the wait staff and I came to take the order of two women.  As we chatted over what lunch to order I noticed her necklace.  I said that I hope she didn’t mind but that I thought her necklace was so beautiful and that it looked like the tree of life, could she tell me about it.  She teared up and immediately began to share.  As it turned out she had just come back from Cambodia where she had invested in a social justice enterprise which sold jewellery and the proceeds went back into rescuing girls out of sex slavery.

She felt that she had hit a wall and was just treading water with the project and wasn’t sure what the next step was.  She was doubting that  she had done the right thing. That morning she asked God, “If you still want me to go ahead with this project will you just get one person to ask me about this necklace today”.

Michelle is now charging along with this enterprise.  I offered to give her space in the studio as it fitted in perfectly with what we do here.  She had her first display in the cafe and is now showing her stock in other places.  I was able to help her with some contacts and advice and we are now fast friends.

3:  Then there is Juliette.  Juliette is a 12 month old baby girl who has or ‘had’ leukaemia this year. Currently she is 60 days cancer free. .. Whoop…. When we first met Juliet’s family, Ju Ju was in hospital.  She was in hospital for about 5 months.  Many days were touch and go for her as she was waiting for a bone marrow transplant.  She needed daily transfusions and had other critical complications.  It was extremely hard.  Ju Ju’s mother was a regular on Saturday mornings which is how we heard her story.  Saturday mornings happened to be her ‘day off’ from hospital and she told us all about her baby girl.

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There was a practical way that we could support her and it was to give her an open tab at the cafe so that she needn’t pay for her Saturday mornings off.   Practically we connected with Team Juliette on face book and started supporting the blood donor programme that they were running as well as praying for her and sending her our love and support.

A few weeks ago Juliette was allowed home from hospital after a successful transplant.  We had journeyed for months with the family so when Juliet’s first outing was to come to the cafe we were over the moon.  Of course she had to sit outside because of her low immunity but we were ecstatic that she was finally out of hospital.  One of the happiest days of the year for our little community.

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Then there is Nige.  Niganthen is a refugee from Sri Lanka.  He came by boat 7 years ago.  At the back of the cafe we have a two bedroom for house which we call The House of Hope. In December 2015 we were able to sponsor two refugee men out of detention.  Nige had been in detention for 6 years and has an incredible story that you can read here “I am a refugee I came by Boat”.  When we receive asylum seekers we support them rent free.  We get them a job and transport.  Language skills and counselling are offered giving them an opportunity to get rental history and work history so that they can settle into the community.

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This photo was taken at one of our Tamil Feasts.  Nige works in the cafe and at certain times we do community Tamil Feasts that Nige cooks.

All of the proceeds of our Tamil Feasts go toward supporting the ‘House of Hope’.

As the Cafe is a not for profit social enterprise any profit that we make goes back into the community.


How do we support the community?

• Grants and funding to community groups
• Housing and employment of asylum seekers
• By providing free studio space for a large variety of creative artists
• Compassionate Vouchers

We also support the community by offering this space for other like minded enterprises.

We care passionately about community, food and coffee. We are a quirky, loveable team who are in awe of our remarkable volunteers who ‘rock our world’.

We have an amazing group of volunteers who are our heroes. They work alongside our waiters, chefs and baristas and ‘they’ are what keep this project alive and jumping. You might meet one welcoming you to your table, arranging a piece of art, killing it in the kitchen or serving you your own special plate of goodness.

They are the heart and soul of what we are all about at NNY. Because really, we are all about people. We believe in the power of community, in doing life together, in collective wisdom, in new ideas, in collaboration and if we need motivation, we borrow some from each other.

We are all about being the presence of God, a redemptive presence in our community.  We are all about loving people and doing life together in the community in which we live.

If you are not in community with those in the margins then something is wrong with your version of the Gospel.

The Gospel was never meant to be talked about it was meant to be lived and demonstrated.

“The center is not the place where Christian faith should be anyway: it was born on the margins to serve the whole humanity … social marginality is not to be bemoaned but celebrated.” Miroslav Volf.

This is a summary of the Emerging Church by Richard Rhor.

“The holy spirit is at work because this is a new kind of thinking that we never had until now.  Church is not just a life saving station.  There has got to be a new kind of reformation. However: we don’t, react, we don’t rebel, we don’t hate, we don’t oppose.  We have to be for something.  The emerging church asks the questions.  What do you believe in, what do you love, what is the heaven that you have discovered?” (Rhor).

To find out more about what the Emerging Church is you can read this article on the Emerging Church.  What is the Emerging Church?

Featured Photo is of an art sculpture by one of our Artists Tim Read from Tread Sculptures.

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on line since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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Interview with Vita Adam

Tuesday Talks with Vita Adam

Today we are chatting with a dear crazy friend of mine.  Singer, songwriter and advocate for young women, Vita Adam. Vita migrated to Australia from Indonesia at aged 2. Since winning the 2009 LightFM Musical Challenge, she has released 6 charting singles, Runnin, Turn It Up, Hold On, Streetlights, Rumour and You Come.

She is also an enthusiastic member of the Melbourne Gospel Choir, with whom she has recently performed for Abigail Disney, Jeffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman and Deborra- Lee Furness, The Logies, The Footy Show with Joel & Benji Madden and Channel 9’s Carols by Candelight.

Last week Vita released her new single “Own It”.

Co written and produced with CDBs and Australia s Got Talent winner ( 2012)
Andy De Silva, this song is all about changing culture. Singer songwriter, Movement
Founder/Leader of The Bold The Beautiful Project and Fashion Director of girls magazine
bella rae, Vita uses every opportunity given, in every area she is involved
in, to play a part in building a stronger tomorrow for future generations and for the
sisterhood.
vita-cover.png

Lisa:  Vita, what does this song mean to you?

“Own It” is all about taking back words that we use every day, words with meaning that are often distorted by pop culture or the media, and redefining their definitions and the images attached to them. It’s about understanding that every single one of us has the power to be a culture changer, and it begins with how we think, speak and therefore behave. We are all leaders, regardless of our age or whether we are up on a platform or not. So get excited and “Own It”.

Lisa: Who did you write it with and how did it come about? 

Songwriting always begins with what is on my heart. I absolutely love when I have opportunities to then develop songs, in this case with the amazing Andrew De Silva, and turn them into something that I could not have dreamt up on my own. There’s something beautiful about collaboration. I learn so much from other artists and love having their different flavours infused into my songwriting cooking.

Own It’ was birthed…..out of sheer frustration. Hahaha. I just got so sick of how over sexualised our culture is, how desensitised we have become to the words we use, how we use them and the images attached to them. Because of this distorted understanding of how we use language, visuals and media we have a problem of pop culture dictating to our girls a message that screams at them that “they are not enough.

What is hot? Sexy? Provocative? Beautiful? If we google these words, there is a very high percentage of over sexualised images attached to them. Interesting that there are multiple definitions available for each other these words. Why always so sexualised? Why?

So here is this song, talking about taking back how we speak, what we speak and how we present “value, beauty and purpose”. These themes are a common thread through my music, my role as bella are magazine’s Fashion Director, and the movement founded and leader of The Bold The Beautiful Project.

Lisa:  Vita Adam – what are you passionate about? Im asking  this with a giggle because Vita is pretty passionate about everything.

I am passionate about changing the world.

I am passionate about being a culture changer.

I am passionate about being a strong role model.

I am passionate about cultivating sisterhood with our girls.

I am passionate about using music to change the atmosphere in a positive way.

I am passionate about meeting people where they are at, so that they feel valued, heard and loved.

I am passionate about rallying my generation to understand that we have responsibility to fight for and walk with the next.

Lisa:  You are also deeply committed to The Bold and The Beautiful project. What is the bold and beautiful and what is its message?

The Bold The Beautiful project is not just a motivational speaking program, it is a movement. A movement that tours schools and speaks to girls about what it means to be BOLD and truly BEAUTIFUL.

It’s about taking simple principals, such as “What does it mean to be BOLD?” We unpack definitions, we unpack what bold decision making looks like. We unpack the power of words and the power of names. How names, given to us by birth or through social interaction have the power to define us. In negative and positive ways.

It’s about letting the negative names that we are called ( fat, ugly, loser, nerd, dumb..etc etc) fall to the ground and to adopt new names attached to our identity. ” I am Bold. I am Beautiful. I am Brave. I am Enough”

Lisa:  What do you think is the greatest pressure on young people at the moment?

I think one of the greatest pressures our young people face is the pursuit of perfection. Thanks to social media, we do a lot of multiple- selfie- taking…until we nail the “perfect” photo. We do a lot of “deleting” until we can post the “perfect” words. We strive to have popular, pretty, influential and powerful friends that make us look good. We want to look fashionable and current so that we are always on trend. It’s admired when our romantic partners are super good looking and rich, smart and athletic.

The thing is….there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being any of these things. However, problems arise when we hang on to these sorts of ideals too tightly, as if we are nothing if we don’t hit the mark. Unfortunately…pop culture tends to disagree with me.

It’s ok to not be all things to all people. It’s ok to be super fit and healthy but still have a soft pot belly ( insert my photo here). It’s ok to have an empty bank account but you are rich with the calibre of people in your world. It’s ok. We just need to learn to take ourselves and each other off the hook, understand that we were created to live in relationship, in community and not do life on our own. I believe I am strong and really great at what I do, because of the army of lions and lionesses that I have walking with me. Now THAT…..is hot.

Lisa:  Do you have a personal mission statement – what code do you live by?

I believe that longevity and true success comes with relationship.

I believe that above all else, honouring people is your most valuable currency.

I believe that courage is learnt by stepping out and living, not just by hearing and watching.

I believe that I am not an expert, but a student of life who never stops learning.

I believe that I am a woman first and an artist/leader second.

I believe that who I am in public should be an overflow of who I am in private. (work in progress)

I believe that I am enough just as I am.

Lisa:  What do you do to help you get through tough times?

I went through some really tough years with anxiety. Thankfully, I am on the other side where it does not cripple me anymore, but I am aware of my red flags. When I am stressed, tired, scared for whatever reason, I feel my body wanting to default back into old mindsets and behaviour. These days I have a better handle at living through difficult seasons in life. I have understood that investing in my body and my health is a priority.

I love to run. I run long distance every second day, and I jump in the pool and smash laps every other. Running is intense and challenging and it helps me beat out any frustrations I may have. Swimming is beautiful recovery for my body, a different type of cardio workout and there’s something about the silence under water that calms me. Exercise releases my body, injects good chemicals, helps me sleep and teaches me to listen to my body.

I also eat pretty clean. I’m not too strict. I love my burgers with the lot and there’s always a tub of ice-cream in the freezer. But I understand that I am what I eat. I feel my body breakdown with tiredness and headaches when I don’t eat well. It just feels yuk.

I also sing, listen and write music. It’s my release. It’s the best way I know how to communicate how I feel.

Lisa:  How important is it to you to have safe people around you and who are these people in your world?

I have a beautiful first circle of friends that I feel safe with. I am a very private person ( which some may find hard to believe) but I don’t really socialise a lot. I’m actually really introvert. So my first circle of friends and my mentors are so important to me. They are my safe place. I share with them, I cry and I laugh with them. Sometimes I need to unpack information- sensitive situations so my mentors are like gold to me. Discretion, confidentiality and trust are characteristics I hold very dear to my heart. I need safe people to help me unload difficult and sometimes public issues.

My circle are not only there to support me, but also to keep me accountable. They help me make difficult decisions , they are sounding boards to help me with examples of language before I execute certain conversations and they totally whip me back into line when I’m not behaving, talking and walking life well.

If you would like to follow Vita and find out more about her projects go to her website:

www.vitaadam.com

Or  www.facebook.com/TheVitaAdam

Instagram: Vita Adam  @vbomb
                   The Bold The Beautiful Project @tb_tbproject
Other Recordings:

REAL – EP

WHITE HORSES – ALBUM

“White Horses” , her first complete album, was launched late March 2014.

 Since the launch of “White Horses”, Vita has relocated to the Gold Coast where she has since released 2 singles,  “Rumour” and “My Heart” and founded a motivational speaking movement called “The Bold The Beautiful Project”

 Singles:

Runnin – 2009

Turn it up – 2010

Hold on – 2010

Streetlights – 2011 Peaked at #5 on TRAA chart after 10 weeks in

Rumour – 2014 peaked at #4 on HOT 25 COUNTDOWN

You Come – 2014 peaked at  #10 on HOT 25 COUNTDOWN

My heart – 2016

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on line since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Job, His Friends and Disappointment

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There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. 
– Martin Luther King, Jr. –
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Job, His Friends and Disappointment by Nicole Conner
You can follow Nicole on her Blog Reflections of a Mugwump 
The book of Job has always fascinated me. One of the oldest books in the Old Testament and most celebrated pieces of biblical literature, it is dominated by two main characters: Yahweh and a wealthy man called Job, who faced utter devastation. The book is loosely divided into five parts: the prologue, the symposium, the speeches of Elihu, the nature poems, and the epilogue. It is a book that raises questions about suffering and directly challenges the idea of karma – that people are rewarded or punished according to their merits.
It is a book of poetic and philosophical depth and beauty. It is a book of suffering and grief. It is also a book that provides an example of how to be a really annoying friend. After Job loses everything, his friends come to ‘comfort’ him. They do well at first because they shut up. However, when Job begins to speak they never really hear him or seek to understand. They simply pontificate their opinions on his suffering and try to fit him into their little boxes of comfortable reasoning. Nothing much has changed … humans just don’t evolve that quickly 😃
Eliphaz is convinced that Job has done something sinister to deserve this pain. Bildad suggests that maybe his deceased children were guilty of evil. Zophar really has no idea but is convinced that God has a plan and is on the throne (sound familiar?). Elihu, the zealous youngster, thinks that maybe Job is just a tad arrogant and that his pain is God’s way of humbling him and he will be a better person because of it. In summary, this is a group of Shit Friends or ‘worthless physicians’ as Job refers to them. People who practice triumphant monologue, provide unhelpful answers (accusations) or cliches, and are in on the ride because they cannot cope with the existential angst of not knowing why bad stuff happens to good people. Yes, we have all been in the presence of Job’s friends. We all have been Job’s friends.
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Disappointment is the cousin of grief. Disappointment is tied to our expectations. Our expectation of people, of events, of God, that is if we happen to be someone who holds a faith. When they do not ‘behave’ the way we expect, we become disappointed. Job was disappointed because he had spent his life in faithful devotion to God, expecting God to protect him, and yet disaster and suffering entered his life. He was disappointed in his friends because in the time of his greatest need they were … well they were just shit friends.
There are many lessons we can draw from Job. One would be that the questions we often ask about theodicy seem to have no satisfying answers. Another is that suffering is part of the human existence and disappointment is part of life. We can also learn how not to be a friend!
We will all face disappointment in our life time. If we happen to be one of the people to walk alongside another as they face disappointment, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Let’s stop pretending that we know exactly what they are feeling. We don’t. We  may be able to empathise to a certain degree, but we have not lived their life, walked a single step in their shoes, and we have no idea how exactly they are processing the disappointment that they are facing.
  2. Let’s learn to shut up and listen. If we are genuine about being an ‘alongsider’, then let’s be a sounding board. Don’t let’s use our friend’s pain as a soapbox to practice our philosophical or religious ideals. It’s like rubbing salt on a wound. The greatest gift we can give at that moment is to listen deeply.
  3. We are not the Messiah – and that really is good news. There is an innate urge in each of us to ‘fix’ things and people. The reality of life is that there are some things we can ‘fix’ and many things that we can’t. Mindfulness, kindness, practical expressions of love are most helpful to those facing disappointment. Job’s friends failed at these. Like Christopher Pyne, they were ‘fixers’ – and both Job and Yahweh grew weary of them.
  4. Walking alongside needs us to deal with our ego. People facing disappointment will be angry, grieving, sullen, and maybe rude. If we are in a support role and have not done some serious shadow-work we will find ourselves ‘hurt and offended’. Then the person who is facing crisis now has to deal with our wounded egos … Nicht Gut.
  5. Let’s practice our theology at these times, not preach it. Love in action is the best sermon we will ever preach. The day may come when we will be facing disappointment and will discover how annoying it is when someone, oblivious to our heartache, gets all “God-is-on-the-throne-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life” on us. In moments of deep disappointment we won’t really give a crap about anyone’s ideas about God, rather make “me a cup of coffee and feed me chocolate”.
Job faced bitter disappointment. We will also have to handle our fair share in our short life. And when we are comforting those who are disappointed let’s not add to their burden by being shit friends like those of Job.  Bake that cake, cook that meal, mind those children, and let’s learn to listen …

When all Hope Seems Lost

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Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.

(Les Misérables)

When all Hope Seems Lost by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

Today I would like to take some time to share my thoughts on the 2016 American election.  This has occupied much of my thoughts as I am sure it has yours. You will be aware of the  political upheavals that have been happening across the globe.  First Brexit and then last week the American election where to our horror we saw Donald Trump become the President Elect.

The world went into shock and social media, the press and most conversations were centred around why and how did this happen.  Commentators and historians have been discussing political theories around left and right wing belief systems.  The social status of the haves and have nots and how they voted.  We have heard statistical breakdowns of gender votes.  We watched in horror as a man whose words and lifestyle flaunted his  misogynistic attitude to women, his mocking behaviour of the disabled, his white supremacist attitude to ethnic minorities  and his bullying and name calling tactics throughout the election.

The basis of every revolution has been oppression.  The people are tired, tired of the elite, tired of the system, tired of not having enough to flourish.  They feel used, unheard and  exhausted with academic rhetoric.  Whether we like Trump or Hilary is not the issue here.  The issue is that the people have been heard.   They will overlook all of the above about Donald Trump because they want one thing.  Change.  They believe that Trump is the one candidate that could possibly give it to them.

Yes there are issues around racism, xenophobia, fear and economic crisis.  But I believe that the overriding factor here is that the people are tired of the system, they are tired of institutions, they are tired of lies and broken promises and they want change.  The ‘institution’ whether it be religion, the banks or politics is out of step with the people.  It is out of touch with those living on the margins, with those who are invisible when the policies, programming and planning is being done.  The ‘holy huddle’, or the political elite are completely removed from the daily grind and battle of everyday people.

“The center is not the place where Christian faith should be anyway: it was born on the margins to serve the whole humanity … social marginality is not to be bemoaned but celebrated.” Miroslav Volf.

You may already feel that you are living in the margins, you may identify with the sense of hopelessness of every day life and how bloody hard it is to keep going, to put food on the table to pay the bills.  If however you are financially and emotionally surviving in this world you have an obligation to your neighbour.  You have an obligation to hear their story, to understand, but much more than that you are obligated to befriend, to love and to help carry the load.

And hear this.  If you are not doing life with those in the margins then something is wrong with your version of the Gospel.  The Gospel was never meant to be talked about or taught it was meant to be lived and demonstrated.

We need to reframe how we are to live in this new space. The people have spoken and they have definitely got our attention.  We need to think less about how we got here and more about how we are going to live here.

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There were two trees in the Garden.

When we go back to the very beginning, to Genesis and look at the garden of Eden.  We are shown an example of the two ways that we can live our lives.  One is to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This is where we have been living most of the last few months.  This is dualistic thinking.  It is all about good and evil, right and wrong.   Usually “I am right and you are wrong”.   However this attitude will only polarise and divide us.  We become full of knowledge about why and how and what history and commentators say about his and that.  This then empowers our reasoning about why we are right.  The tree is there for us to eat from, it is okay to be informed, it is important to be able to discern between good and evil but I don’t believe that we are to live here.

The Tree of Life is where we are to live and receive our nourishment.  Jesus is the tree of life.   When we eat from this tree we flourish.  Jesus said that “I have come that you can have life and life more abundantly”.  When Jesus came He offered a way ‘other than’ the one that was being presented by the oppressors of the day, which was the political regime and the religious institution.  Both of who were the elite and at the top of the social class structure.  That is why Jesus went to the margins, to the unclean, to the unlovely, to those who were invisible in this social structure.

Yesterday in our little Warrandyte community gathering we  discussed the last weeks events and how it had effected us.  The following scripture was shared.

I have pitched my tent in the land of hope.  

I saw God before me. Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side. I’m glad from the inside out; I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope. I know you’ll never dump me in Hell; I’ll never even smell the stench of death. You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
with your face shining sun-joy all around.  Acts 2:25-28

When all Hope Seems Lost

Thousands of years ago David chose the way of life when he was being persecuted and betrayed.  Centuries after that Peter the Apostle chose the path of life even after his friend and saviour was crucified and all hope must have seemed to be gone.  Today  we too now can chose to pitch our tent in the house of Hope.   We  can chose to eat from the tree of life.  We can chose to be people of hope and love and compassion.  When we chose this we cannot be shaken.  Love is the eternal and defining force that predicts the people of God.  “They will know you are my followers when you demonstrate love to one another” (John 13:35).

 

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Love Lisa

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Thoughts on Worship by Jay McNeill

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On the Other Side of Worship

Jay McNeill is a good friend of mine and will join us from time to time as a guest blogger.  Today he is chatting about his reflections on Worship. Jay also has a blog site which you can access at http://jaymcneill.com.

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Jay McNeill – who am I?  I have this childlike expectation that if people write honest, vulnerable and transparent stories, the world may possibly step back from the brink of insanity – naive I know. My hope is that anything I write, whether literature or music, will give the reader or listener the sense that there is someone on the planet who has the same crazy thoughts as themselves and that somehow this might offer a sense of hope.

I am a father of twin girls and a husband of a wife who keeps my life together. We currently live in Melbourne after a 5 year season in the USA. My life has been a ‘mixed box of chocolates’, but the most recent soul searching journey has been navigating the treacherous path of severe Cerebral Palsy which my daughter lives with.

With its delivery of grief it has also brought the gift of a sobered mind and therefore the willingness to meet the challenge of reconciling the contradiction of life.

This post is a pensive reflection on my past experience as a worship leader. If you are someone whose pathway to God is through worship music,  I hope you don’t read these words as criticism, it is certainly not intended that way. If anything, I am contemplating my own journey and my life has given me a diverse bag of experiences to draw from. So if you don’t mind a gentle prod, read on!

I have had many vocations; factory worker, song-writer, lab assistant for a cosmetics company, helicopter pilot, session musician, horse stable hand, recording engineer, business owner, creative team leader, essence creator, corporate manger at an aid organisation etc…. but the most thought provoking occupation has been as a worship leader.

Lisa Hunt-Wotton Paper Stage

Lisa Hunt-Wotton Paper Stage

As the phenomenon of the mega church becomes the established norm, the more possible it has become to hire accomplished musicians and technicians. I don’t think that is a bad thing but as professional musicians choose their vocation in the church, the more the church naturally gets exposed to the world of commerce in the music industry.

I now wonder if that has had a detrimental impact on the innocence and purity of the simple worship ceremony. It wasn’t that long ago that people couldn’t make a living from royalties on songs and CD sales in Christian music. Hymn writers rarely had the platform of copyright to leverage off. If musicians got involved in the early church, it wasn’t clouded with the idea of success and technology that catapulted an individuals reach.

Never in worship history has there been so much focus on individuals with the aid of media screens, CD’s, DVD’s, T-Shirts etc…Even though the heart of the worship leader might be to get people to focus on God, the reality is when the spectacle is so big and impressive, it is difficult to not get carried in the concert energy and mistake the atmosphere for something more than it is.

The alignment with the pop world in anthemic tunes and memorable hooks has produced a twinge of apprehension in my soul and I am reminded of my own contribution to the worship culture over the years. Singing anthems with thousands of people week after week can blur the lines between a worship service with a vertical focus and an inspiring collection of songs that makes you feel good, much like any concert would.

The predictability of a worship service has not escaped the congregation’s attention. Most people in evangelical churches warm to the pulse of two energetic songs followed by two or three ballads with deep emotive tones. Over the years many of us have reduced the act of worship primarily to a music focus and that has encouraged a culture of critique as though worship is something to be assessed and consumed.

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Photo by Atilla Siha 

It is jarring to me when some assume everyone’s pathway to God is through worship music. Everyone loves music but that doesn’t mean it is an individuals pathway to spirituality. If I were honest, I would say standing in a worship service rarely connects me to God, in fact, I can find it distracting. My pathway to spirituality is primarily in nature. When I have the chance to sit and admire our amazing earth, I feel closer to God. Others may feel closer to God through helping someone in need; others may find God when they use their intellect – there are many pathways.

I struggle a little when a worship leader suggests that engaging in worship via a music medium is vital to someones spiritual growth. I have been witness to some worship leaders inadvertently mustering a wildly diverse group of people into a spiritual corral prodded by light touches of shame during the course of a service – I have probably done that myself without even realising. Most people comply and sing along but for a whole bunch of people the experience doesn’t draw them closer to God. In fact, if the person doesn’t know that there are different pathways to God, they can be left feeling as though there is something wrong with them because they are not as emotionally engaged as the person standing alongside them.

I often wonder if the last 30 years of worship music has skewed our perspective. People tend to forget that what we experience in a modern service is only a recent chapter, it hasn’t been around that long and it certainly comes with a lot of baggage.

People who turn up to church need more than a prescriptive experience, lights and cameras. Many are broken, misunderstood, troubled, managing disease or processing messed up relationships. That requires a community to be more practical, engaged, affirming, encouraging and importantly…. a preparedness to be up close to someones life – maybe that is what worship is? Maybe it has less to do with music and technology which broadcasts from a stage and more about face to face which broadcasts through your eyes?

Jay McNeill

Recommended Reading:

Jay McNeill, Growing Sideways

http://jaymcneillmusic.com/books

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