Pastoral Survival Guide: by Rowland Croucher.
The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.
After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’. Here are three of them.
1.. RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
1-1 JESUS OUR MODEL
Christian ministry – of any kind – is simply doing in our world what Jesus did in his. Jesus is our pattern for ministry – to God and for the world. Close communion with the Father was at the heart of all he was and did. As his disciples saw this reality they wanted to be part of it (why don’t more people ask us to teach them to pray?). His prayer-life was disciplined and ordered, although he too, was busy. It began with a contemplation of God – ‘Our Father’ – before moving to human need.
He prayed hard before important decisions, like choosing the twelve. His meditation on Scripture gave strength in times of testing, particularly when the devil wanted him to do ministry another way. Time was found for prayer – 40 days, a whole night, very early in the morning. Hurry is the death of prayer. (When did you last take a retreat?) Nowhere did Jesus pray ‘to feel good’: for him, and for us, the key imperative is obedience.
1-2 SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process whereby the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God so that she or he becomes more and more like the Son of God. It’s ‘growing firm in power with regard to your inner self’ (Ephesians 3:16). It’s the maturing of the Christian towards union with Christ.
Assumptions of spirituality include
* God is doing something before I know it
* Love and prayer are gifts
* The aim of spiritual formation is not happiness, but love, joy, peace – and courage and hope
* Prayer is friendship with God, a response to his love
* Prayer is subversive: it’s an act of defiance against the ultimacy of anything other than God
* We are always beginners in the life of prayer: pray as you can, not as you can’t (‘to seek to pray is to pray’).
1-3 IMAGES OF MINISTRY
The minister – whether pastor or other – serves by introducing persons to Jesus, our only antidote for alienation. Alienation (sin) is the severing of self from self, self from others, self from God; and all these are connected (if I’m alienated from self I won’t be OK with others). The opposite of alienation is belonging: the process is called metanoia (‘turning’ from blaming to owning one’s alienation and being ‘converted’). Truly ‘converted’ people are eucharistic, thankful, grateful.
# Wounded Healer: The minister of Christ expects trouble (as Jesus promised) in a world tempting us with clean sorrow and clean joy. The Lord is closer when we are vulnerable, when we stop pretending to be powerful, and admit how wounded we are. Personal spiritual renewal comes only through brokenness, dying (Psalm 51:10-12,17, John 12:20-28). The Christian life begins and continues as a via crucis.
We recognise Judas and Peter in ourselves – we’re both wicked and weak. And yet, in our despair, when resurrection seems unlikely we hear him in the garden or on the sea-shore, alive, calling us by name. Because we are identified with a dying/risen Christ, our ministry is a ‘living reminder’ of this oneness. So we will avoid crucifixion-only spiritual masochism or resurrection-only triumphalism. And our pastoral task is to prevent others suffering for the wrong reasons.
# Servant Leader: Ministry is the translation of the Good News into human relationships. It’s having authority to empower others to live in the Kingdom.
‘Authority’ = a firm basis for knowing and acting; ‘authorities’ maintain their position after knowing/acting have finished, and ‘lord’ it over others (which is why people who climb institutions often have difficulty maintaining a spiritual life).
Jesus, in contrast to the authorities, was a servant, identifying with us in our ordinariness (the Suffering Servant wasn’t good-looking, Isaiah 52:13). So ministry has to do with ‘the quiet homely joys of humdrum days’ (Sangster), the sheer Mondayness of things. Such servanthood is indiscriminate (if I cannot embrace someone, it is because he or she reminds me of some fear in myself). But let us remember: if we live to please people, we become slaves of those people. Instead of one master (Jesus, whose yoke is easy), we end up with numerous Pharaohs who are never satisfied with our performance no matter how much we do.
Our servant role is well expressed in Colossians 1:24-29 and Acts 20:28 (‘Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.’). As we are called to be servants of the church, we also affirm that the church is not our master – Christ is.
During the installation of a pastor, the congregation is asked two questions phrased something like this: ‘And you, people of God, will you receive this messenger of Jesus Christ, sent by God to serve God’s people with the Gospel of hope and salvation? Will you regard him/her as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God?’
# The Scholar Teacher (Latin schola = free time): Henri Nouwen (Creative Ministry) contrasts violent and redemptive teaching models. ‘Violent’ teaching is competitive (knowledge is property to be defended rather than a gift to be shared), unilateral (the teacher is strong/competent, the pupil weak/ ignorant), and alienating (students and teachers belong to different worlds). ‘Redemptive’ teaching is evocative (drawing out potentials), bilateral (teachers are free to learn from students), actualising (offering alternative life-styles in a violent world).
# Coach/Empowerer. The Protestant Reformation put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people, and just about everybody agrees we now need a new Reformation to put ministry into the hands of the laos – but many/most clergy will resist it. (Why do we persist in using the word ‘minister’ in the singular?) The clergy are part of the laity, equipping us all towards spiritual growth and maturity (Colossians 1, Ephesians 4).
Pastors are the churches’ resident spiritual directors (see Eugene Peterson’s excellent writings on that subject), theologians (see Elton Trueblood), and prophets (Walter Brueggemann).
Featured Images by Attila Shia:
You can view his work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/
New Shoes Here I Come The link between depression and creativity is debated in many arenas. I do wonder how many Artists and those who operate mostly from the right side of the brain struggle with this and to what level. I truly believe that depression is more common than we think. Artists feel deeply and that is what makes their art so profound and moving. I’ve posted an article about the link between depression and creativity written by Shelley Carson.
Depression, Creativity, and a New Pair of Shoes
By Shelley H. Carson, Ph.D. on July 30, 2008 – 2:05pm in Life as Art.
“Well, I guess now all I have to do is get depressed and my work will improve.”
Since the time of Aristotle, creativity and the arts has been linked to melancholia…but depression itself doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity. Quite the opposite: most poets, artists, and composers have reported over the years that they are decidedly unable to work during episodes of severe depression. In fact, many have found their inability to create while depressed to be an impetus for ending it all. Virginia Woolf, for example, unable to write during the onset of a depressive episode, filled her pockets with stones and submerged herself in the River Ouse.
So if depression inhibits creativity, why the long-standing recognition of a connection between the two?
Here are four suggested theories: First, some artists and writers admit to engaging in their craft as a kind of auto-therapy for depression (a more healthy coping mechanism than booze but lots of artists and writers use that, too!). So depression (or the effort to avoid depression) may provide an incentive to do creative work that wards off melancholia.
A second theory is that the experience of depression may provide subject matter for artistic creations: Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream and Emily Dickinson’s “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” are just a couple of examples. A third theory, one held by many Romantic-era luminaries, is that one cannot truly comprehend the human condition (or convey it meaningfully in creative work) unless he or she has experienced the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows. Thus, depression provides the existential angst from which great art arises.
Finally, recent research on mood disorders and patterns of creativity suggests that it may not depression itself but recovery from depression that inspires creative work. Kay Redfield Jamison found that periods of creative productivity occur when individuals are either transitioning out of a depressive episode or are transitioning from normal mood into a manic or hypomanic episode.
In other words, creative productivity is linked to upward changes in mood. This dovetails nicely with work done by Alice Isen’s group at Cornell which found that people scored higher on creativity measures after a positive mood induction in the lab. Positive mood was induced by giving study participants a small, unexpected gift.
Okay, so maybe my artist friend doesn’t need to get depressed to improve her work; maybe all she needs is an unexpected gift (a manicure? a new pair of shoes? an unexpected snuggle from her four-year-old?). The point is, perhaps an upward change in mood can mimic recovery from depression and increase creative thinking.
If you’re currently suffering from creative block, try the “unexpected gift” strategy. You could either arrange for someone to surprise you with a small unexpected gift…or you could find a small, unexpected gift on your own (a flower growing in a crack in the sidewalk, a full moon rising over the trees, or the taste of a ripe strawberry – anything that inspires unexpected joy.) By keeping your senses open to unexpected pleasures, you may be able to get your creative juices flowing.
As an artist who suffers from depression I can relate to a few things in this article.
Firstly if my depression is especially deep I find it hard to get out of bed let alone do any creative work so in that regard depression does not help my creativity.
However, mild depression along with my introverted personality mean that I enjoy great periods of time in silence and solitude. When I am in this space, then I am the most active creatively. I am able to go into a cocoon where time has no value and am able to focus exclusively on what I am working on. I find intrusion or interruptions extremely annoying. This could include eating or answering the phone. In this regard I wonder if my depression or introverted nature help the intensity of the creative process. When I am in this space I find great joy in observation and not speaking. I will wander the streets taking in the sights or observe people in cafe’s or busy places. I like to drive into the inner city and look at historic architecture or to walk along secluded beaches. This refuels me and inspires me.
I am really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic and how this relates to you. Love Lisa
References: Ashby, F.G., Isen, A.M., & Turken, U. (1999). A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition. Psychological Review, 106(3), 529-550. Jamison, K. (1989). Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 52: 125-134.
Pastoral Survival Guide: Part 1 by Rowland Croucher
Introduction: Pastoral Challenges Today
1. Relationship with God
3. Mentors and Networks
4. Leadership and Interpersonal Skills
5. Home and Marriage
6. Stress Management
8. The ‘Vision Thing’
9. Professional Growth
10. Institutions and Creativity
REVEREND JOE’S STORY
Reverend Joe was a boilermaker in a factory, but he had a gift with words. One of his elders said he should be a preacher, so he went to Bible College, and served a term as a cross-cultural missionary with an interdenominational organisation. His ministry in Papua New Guinea was ‘ordinary’ according to the mission-people, and his wife developed some health problems. The doctors suggested that a tropical climate would not be good for her, so the Mission Society asked him to do some ‘deputation’ – which he did very well. He had only three talks to offer, but that’s all he needed as he journeyed around Australia, preaching in evangelical churches every Sunday. The General Superintendent of one of the Baptist Unions heard him speak, and was impressed.
When Joe intimated that he was thinking about entering pastoral ministry, the G.S. said ‘I think we can find a place for you’ and Joe began the process of theological training with a view to ordination. He struggled to pass his exams, but eventually made it. He then served two rural churches, but both pastorates ended badly. In the first, he ‘fronted’ a couple of the powerful people, and they virtually drove him out. A second pastorate finished abruptly after a couple of years when he had a breakdown. There was no farewell from either church. When he felt a little better, he asked to be put on the Baptist Union ‘list’ for another pastorate. The meetings of the ‘settlement committee’ came and went and Joe’s name would come up each time. But there wasn’t a ‘suitable’ church. (One of the members of that committee said to me, ‘We have to be efficient, because there’s always a lot of business each month. But these names. they’re people! This is their vocation, their livelihood, we’re talking about. We don’t pray for them, or even meet some of them. They’re mostly just names. I feel very uneasy about the whole process.’)
I met Joe when I preached at the Baptist church he attended. We made a time to talk – at the local McDonald’s. He got there early and was waiting for me, with a cup of coffee. (I learned later he found a used styrofoam cup, and asked for a ‘refill’, as he couldn’t admit to me that he was penniless). His wife was supporting them both with some ‘agency nursing’, but her health was still not good, and she could only do about two shifts a week. After mortgage payments, and other bills, they had about $50 a week for food. He couldn’t find a job – and his old trade wasn’t a possibility any more.
He told me, in an hour-and-a-half, the ‘headlines’ of his story. He had a brutal, alcoholic father, and a mother who suffered ‘nervous breakdowns’ regularly. His childhood was unhappy, and he was a lonely kid. School was always a bad experience, and he left at 15 to work in a factory. A Christian work-mate befriended him, took him to an evangelistic meeting, ‘and I was gloriously saved’. His life from then on was focussed on serving God and winning others to Christ.
After a while, I asked him to give me a rough assessment of his missionary and ministry careers. He did some things well, he said, but he couldn’t cope with people who ‘crossed’ him – either by making comments about his beliefs/ preaching, or by challenging his leadership. ‘I got into trouble regularly because I would stand up to people. That’s the only way I survived as a kid. They’re not going to squash me. But I think I made a lot of enemies each place I served.’
We then talked about ‘where to from here’. I summarised John Mark Ministries ‘ research into ex-pastors like him – and me. There are about 41 responses to the question ‘Why did you leave parish/ pastoral ministry?’ Most leave in a context of conflict – with the powerful people in the church or denomination. But underneath all this there’s always a story of ‘unfinished family-of-origin’ business. His story was not unusual – indeed he’s a classic!
He told me he felt ‘the Union’ had washed its hands of him. He was in the ‘dead wood’ category that institutional people talk about. ‘The G.S. who encouraged me to enter ministry has gone, and no one there now knows me.’ The Baptist Union had recently developed a system to encourage the personal and professional growth of its pastors, who now are required to renew their accreditation regularly. Joe felt threatened by all this. ‘I’m not a reader, ‘ he said. ‘But I still think I could be useful somewhere in the church.’
INTRODUCTION: PASTORAL CHALLENGES TODAY
Now, what should happen to Joe if he’s to realise his potential and make it back into pastoral ministry again? Is he a hopeless case? I personally don’t think so, but it will certainly be uphill. Non-tertiary-educated/ Bible college trained ex-missionaries have generally had problems adjusting again. The society they left has moved dramatically in their absence. They often lack the vocational skills to compete on their return and the sending mission societies have often failed to provide for their retraining and economic wellbeing after ‘years of sacrificial service’. Even pastors that never went overseas, but were trained in the 1950s/ 1960s, are often similarly disadvantaged.
I meet quite a few pastors still leading churches because they can’t think of any alternatives. They’re burned out, struggling on, and their churches are suffering.
Then, too, there’s another category: pastors who feel they’re ‘mediocre’ in terms of effective leadership, but who do a faithful job. until some powerful people in the church insist on their ‘getting their act together better’. Then there’s trouble.
Another group is committed to ‘church growth’, but their people often feel they’re pawns in a triumphalistic chess-game. ‘Our pastor doesn’t listen: he suffers from an edifice complex. We’re OK if we bring friends to church, but not if we struggle.’
Some older pastors feel they’ve passed their ‘use by’ date. One told me: ‘I don’t understand all this post-modern stuff. I seem to be preaching about things the educated young people aren’t interested in. A university student said to me: “You preach at us. Our teachers encourage us to come to our own conclusions.”‘
Today it’s both easier and harder to be a pastor. Easier, because we have more resources to help us – like the World Wide Web for sermon-material (ever used the search-engine Google as a concordance?), more support-groups to encourage and pray for us, better access to the world’s practical theology experts, and a higher standard of living, on average, than pastors have ever enjoyed.
But it’s also harder. Many of us can identify with the apostle Paul who said, ‘Who is equal to such a task?’, about his own call to pastoral ministry. These days the expectations of our people are higher – and more likely to be expressed vigorously. Up-front leaders and speakers compete with dynamic personalities on television. There are more ‘religious’ people not attending churches (in the West) than ever before in history. Our people are likely to be better-educated – and differently-educated than we are. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work any more: people are more mobile, and brand-loyalty doesn’t work for Generation X’ers (those born since 1965) – or even Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).
The role of the clergy is by not as clear as it was. Nor is there clear public affirmation of their role in many instances. Most people see no need for religious professionals. And there’s a lack of confidence in institutions. Why waste precious time propping up ineffective institutions? Indeed, the very way in which people are approaching spirituality is that community involvement may be helpful at some points in time, but is certainly secondary to the individual spiritual journey.
In the past 40 years I’ve preached in about 700 churches in Australia, and they’re becoming more varied each decade. The single most common question in our ‘Marks of a Healthy Church’ seminars: how can we cater for old and young with their different tastes in one worship service, particularly in smaller churches? This centres particularly on the issue of modern vs. older music. But then, we’ve argued about music before: some churches in 17th century England and Scotland forbade all singing, others said we should only sing Psalms. When new hymn-books are produced, there are mixed reactions. (In 1691 when the first Baptist hymn book appeared, many Baptists refused to use it!).
Back to TV: most church-attenders have watched almost 20 hours of television the previous week. Not only is the medium the message, but if communication in church isn’t dynamic/interesting (and cognisant of an assumed 45-second attention span), the music excellent, and the themes life-related, people will go elsewhere – even back to the TV. (See Tony Campolo, 1995, chapter 4 ‘The Television Challenge’ for one of the few writers-about-churches to underline the significance of television for churches).
Baby Boomers and GenX’ers have grown up with television – that’s why they’re less-than-committed to a particular church/denomination. They’re part of a consumer culture in which choices/freedoms dominate their lifestyle.
They want ‘value for money/time’ and won’t hang around a church that’s boring, irrelevant to their questions, or stuck where it was. (Tradition is a good servant, but a very bad master).
Baby Boomers still have a disproportionate influence over our entire society, consuming (in the U.S.) 51% of all the goods and services and comprising 81% of journalists. Again, they don’t share at all the ‘brand loyalty’ of their parents: indeed they scoff at it – hence the decline of denominations that have ‘expected loyalty but neglected needs’. Baby Boomers and GenX’ers see the church they’re in as a ‘way-station’ for their ongoing spiritual journey rather than the final destination. (This is partly because they’re open to upward job mobility, which may require changing location). They’re more likely to be loyal to a pastor than to a church or denomination. They’re also more tolerant of change, and more comfortable with diversity and ambiguity.
GenX’ers got the best of everything: they’ve never had to wait for the good things of life, so don’t understand ‘deferred gratification’. They listen to music privately, and grew up in the first generation that devalued children as having less social and economic value. They finish their education later, marry later, have kids later and enter the job market later (hence the term ‘the postponed generation’). They’ve been even more influenced by television than have the Baby Boomers: but their concern for global issues often tends to be unfocussed, even shallow. They face an almost overwhelming array of options, and tend to be indecisive. Said one: ‘We search for a goal, and once it’s attained, we realise it has moved farther away’.
So an important question at this point is: should we surrender to the ‘I/me/myself’ selfishness of the consumer culture? Two excellent books on this are Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? and Eugene Peterson’s The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends. The point these two books make: ‘church is essentially in rebellion against selfishness and is committed to diversity’.
Another contemporary issue: most Christians believe that a society which loses its commitment to certain core moral values, where most ‘do what is right in their own eyes’ is ‘on the skids’. Post-modernism rejects absolute ways of speaking of truth. Post-modernism, as the clich puts it, is essentially a rejection of ‘meta-narratives’. So religion is pushed out of the public arena into the private domain and such relativism can have disastrous consequences. Christians believe that to claim a morality which is purely self-referential is to claim a freedom which ends up as being no freedom at all. If there is no point of reference beyond ourselves, then reason, justice and law become exploitable by the powerful and the influential, and the weak have nothing left to appeal to. If we have no word for sin we shall soon find we have no words left to describe responsibility. As the ancient Roman adage puts it: ‘What are laws without morals?’
An Indian pastor was excited he was about his up-coming marriage. A Western missionary asked a few questions about the bride-to-be and it soon became evident that the young fellow had not yet even met the woman to whom he was betrothed. It was an arranged marriage. With as much cultural sensitivity as possible, the missionary asked how did they know if they loved each other? The Indian pastor’s response: ‘We will learn to love each other.’
The Church, whether we like it or not, is like an arranged marriage! We don’t determine who is or is not part of the Church, God does. We won’t get on with everyone. In one sense, when we give our lives to Jesus, we actually don’t have any choice in the matter, for we are called to learn to love even those we don’t get on with.
Back to pastors: please note that we are not here judging the effectiveness of a pastor’s work simply in terms of cleverness or measurable success. I know some faithful ‘Jeremiahs’ whose congregations have dwindled; there were often factors at work beyond their control. Generally, however, well-led and healthy churches grow, spiritually and numerically. There’s a climate of love and expectancy and competence and relevance in them which encourages people to come back again!
Over the next weeks we will look at the characteristics of pastors, women and men, who ‘make the distance’.
Featured Images by Attila Shia, you can view his amazing work on: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/
Cathy Mandile will be leading us through an exercise in Mindfulness today. Cathy is a passionate advocate of people’s rights to receive support, hope and compassion through the darkest times in their lives. She is a professional counsellor currently working in the public mental health sector and has cared for many people with dual diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse. Cathy is has been married for 31 years and has three adult children.
How many of us are stressed out?
Or maybe even experiencing intense anger, sadness, anxiety or fear? How about finding it hard to regulate our emotions at home, at work, in the supermarket or driving?? Tick!
We all can experience these at some stage in our lives.
Mindfulness simply means to choose and learn to control our focus of attention to the present moment without judgement. It does not conflict with any beliefs or traditions, whether religious, cultural or scientific.
It simply is a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells– anything we might not normally notice. Mindfulness skills help us to focus our attention when we are overwhelmed by strong emotions. It can help with how we cope with everyday life or deal with tough times, and there are great benefits for our physical and mental health. Mindfulness can help us choose how we want to ‘respond’, rather than ‘impulsively react’ to situations.
We spend so much time thinking over stuff that has happened in the past, or worrying about things that may happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens. When we’re mindful, it:
- helps clear our head
- helps us be more aware of our self, our body and the environment
- slows down our thoughts
- slows down our nervous system
- helps us to concentrate
- to relax
- can help us cope with stress.
- help manage depression and/or anxiety
- help us to be less angry or moody
- improve memory
- help us learn more easily
- help us to solve problems more easily
- make us happier
- help us to be more emotionally stable
- improve our breathing
- reduce our heart rate
- improve our circulation
- improve our immunity
- help us to cope with pain and
- helps to improve sleep.
How do we exercise mindfulness? The primary focus in Mindfulness is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, non judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance. Mindful breathing:
- Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
- Direct your attention to your breathing.
- When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.
- When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that the attention has drifted and then gently bring the focus back to you breathing.
Colour breathing: This is one of my favourites. From these colours below, choose the colour relating to what you feel you need. You can name the colours anything you want but these are some examples.
Yellow – Peace.
Orange – Courage, Endurance and Strength.
Green – Hope.
Crimson – The presence of God, Love.
Brown – Humility.
Blue – Grace.
Purple – Forgiveness.
- Make yourself comfortable whether sitting or lying down.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.
- Anytime that other thoughts, images, sounds or sensations come to mind, just notice them and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing and your colour.
- Now visualise your colour. See it in front of you, over you, surrounding you. As you slowly breathe, become aware of breathing in your colour, into your nose, your throat, your chest and abdomen. Imagine now that colour spreading out within you and notice the effects that it has.
- Notice the sensations in your body as this colour flows into and spreads throughout your body.
- Anytime that your attention wanders, simply notice that it’s wandered, then gently bring your focus back to your colour.
- Whenever you are ready. Start to bring your attention back to the here and now, where you are. Open your eyes and look around noticing what you see and what you hear. Take a couple of breaths and notice the pleasing sensations that accompany this relaxing exercise.
You notice each gain of sand pass through your fingers.
You could smell the seaweed as it was washed up on the shore. Then, you looked at the beautiful sunset, the colour of the sky, noticing the clouds and how they seemed to shroud the sun as it went down.
You watched the waves come towards you noticing they get lost in the sand. You also felt the wind on your face and breathed in the coolness noticing your lungs being rejuvenated.
You may have thanked God for His creation and His marvellous works. You are relaxed and enjoying the present moment. Taking in deep wells of peace with each breath. Guess what …you just did an exercise in mindfulness. Using mindfulness to cope with negative experiences (thoughts, feelings, events). Examples of negative thoughts: I am hopeless; This is too hard; I am a failure; I need a hit. As we become more practiced at using mindfulness for breathing, body sensations and routine daily activities, we can then learn to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings, to become observers, and then more accepting of them. This results in less distressing feelings and increases our ability to enjoy our lives.
With mindfulness, even the most disturbing sensations, feelings, thoughts and experiences, can be viewed from a wider perspective as passing events in the mind, rather than as ‘us’, or as being necessarily true. ( Brantley 2003).
As we gain confidence in using mindfulness, we can use it even in times of intense distress, by becoming mindful of the actual experience as an observer, using mindful breathing and focussing our attention on the breathing, listening to the distressing negative thoughts mindfully, recognising them as mere thoughts, breathing with them, allowing them to happen without believing them or arguing with them.
Watch them lose their power as they fall away. If thoughts are too strong or loud, then we can move our attention to our breathing, or to sounds around us. Mindfulness takes practice, practice, practice.
Be creative with it!! Enjoy every moment you have, breathe and be thankful.
You will notice the difference!!!! Cathy….
Asylum Seekers: “Pastor, Shouldn’t We Celebrate Stopping the Boats?”
So far this year 38 Christian leaders have been arrested in a call for the release of these children in detention. And there are no signs of us pesky pastors letting up, with over a hundred Christian leaders on their way, willing to be carried off in paddy wagons. Evidently, this Love Makes A Way movement is just getting started.
Some of us have been trained by the civil rights leaders hand-picked by Martin Luther King to lead his movement. People like Dr. Vincent Harding, who told me, “Your work [with Love Makes A Way] is not only influenced by, but a continuation of, Martin [Luther] King’s Freedom Movement.”
And in the words of the Freedom Movement Song, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.”
Columnists – please do your homework. We are not the “loony left” (in fact, some of us are to the right). The rights of children and the rights of refugees we are convinced of are not about “right and left,” but rather “right and wrong.”
We are Pentecostal pastors in mega-churches and Catholic nuns.
We are Reformed Presbyterians and Anabaptist charismatics.
We are local Church of Christ worship leaders and national moderators of the Uniting Church.
We are tongue-talking, Vineyard ministers and contemplative Baptist reverends.
We are Perth Anglo-Catholic priests and Sydney Anglican evangelicals.
In short, it’s a miracle we agree on anything. But by the grace of God, we are all clear on this: As Christians, a “solution” that comes at the cost of the most vulnerable is no solution at all.
Children must be released from detention.
“But Pastor,” many say to us, “This is politics. Your talk of love is fine for the pulpit, but keep it out of the public square. Besides, shouldn’t we celebrate stopping the boats?”
Celebrating stopping the boats is like celebrating people not jumping from burning buildings because we’ve boarded up the windows.
I’ll let my good friends Akram Azimi and Mick Sheldrick extend my metaphor:
Imagine that you live in a building with 100 individual apartments – each housing a family. Suddenly, a fire engulfs the whole building, blocking the exit. You open your windows and call for help. The fire fighters come, but they only have one truck with only one ladder. This means that only one family can descend safely through their window via the lifesaving ladder. This leaves the other 99 families in an unenviable dilemma. Do they stay and wait for the fire to consume them or do they – knowing they have nothing to lose – risk it all by jumping out the window? What would you do?
This is the situation facing seeking asylum. Currently less than one per cent of all refugees are resettled through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). With no real choice at all for the remaining 99 percent, many jump and risk it all, not for a better life but for a chance at life.
People fleeing persecution get on boats for the same reason that people jump from burning buildings – if they stay, they will die. There is no other way. The Government’s “no way” campaign tells desperate people not to jump from burning buildings without providing safety from the flames.
That’s not humane, it’s horrific.
“Stopping the Boats” doesn’t save lives. Stopping the boats saves us from seeing the suffering of those running for their lives. Just because we can see people drowning here doesn’t mean they aren’t dying elsewhere. Shouldn’t we stop people from drowning? Of course! But saving lives is much harder than usstopping boats. It will mean us going to help. We must ask ourselves, as a nation, are we looking for a response that relieves our guilt or responds to the suffering of others?
“But Pastor,” many continue, “Are you saying we should open the borders? What is your solution?”
Of course this isn’t about “open borders.” This is about real leadership and safe, efficient processing. Before I suggest some possible responses, I want to name what I mean by “real leadership.”
Hillsong’s Senior Pastor Brian Houston earlier this week and at their annual Megaprayer Night, showed the real leadership that is lacking.
What we want to pray for is real human beings, real people who are in desperate straits, and are hurting, and are [in] so much pain, children in detention. All sorts of things, that I don’t even pretend to have the answers for or understand. But I tell you though; we have the power of prayer.
–Pastor Brian Houston
Why is this the real leadership that’s needed?
In the first instance, Pastor Brian Houston humanised those who are suffering without qualifiers. Daring not to refer to these desperate people as “queue jumpers” or “boat people” has become a radical thing. Pastor Brian asked us to open our heart without qualifications. He didn’t ask Hillsong to pray just for Christian refugees, or African refugees, or for heterosexual refugees but for all people – regardless of religion, race or orientation – because God loves them. While God’s love won’t be the reason for recognising the humanity of others shared by all, all real leadership insists that we fight to recover the humanity of vulnerable people in public debate and policy response.
Secondly, Pastor Brian also called us in prayer to stand with those who suffer. I realise many reading this might regard prayer as quaint, at best, (and completely daft, at worst,) but Pastor Brian asked us to emotionally and imaginatively empathise with those who are suffering to an extent that we could articulate their longings for freedom with them. If our atheist friends have practices that imitate this process, real leadership calls for us to practice them too, so we might respond to these people with the dignity we all deserve.
And finally, Pastor Brian humbly said he didn’t have the answers. This is what no politician has been willing to say – that there are no simple solutions to human suffering. The search for the simple solution (such as “stop the boats” as ex-One Nation’s Pauline Hanson first suggested and that has since been taken up by both major parties due to its popularity) has become part of the problem. As is the problem of fundamentalism of any form, a simple solution forces easy answers over the complexity of reality. In this case, the reality is that persecution and war are not going away any time soon, which means neither are the refugees running from those realities. Whilst Australia might be thoroughly secular, popular public opinion has fallen for a form of policy fundamentalism that wants quick fixes over complex long-term responses. But three-word phrases can’t deliver what has been asked of us. One hundred and forty characters can’t contain what our response needs to be. What’s been asked of us is a response to real and complex human suffering. Real leadership, the kind shown by Pastor Brian, has the humility to admit that we don’t have all the answers, but that our response must be one that connects to the suffering of others.
“So Pastor, you are saying you don’t have any answers?”
No. I am saying that I don’t have any easy answers. But I’m trying to “live” into some important questions.
For over two years my family of three have been living with 17 recently arrived refugees at First Home Project. Out of the daily reality of responding to recently arrived people, here are my questions – some of which we asked former-PM Kevin Rudd:
- Why couldn’t this government, like Fraser’s Liberal government in the 70s, lead a regional response that upholds international law written to say “never again” after the Holocaust? This would mean Australia becoming a regional leader in putting up more ladders out of the burning building.
- Why couldn’t Australia’s navy, like Italy’s, help asylum seekers find safe passage here and to other regional centres to be processed efficiently?
- Why couldn’t this government do what John Howard’s Liberal government did in 2005 and release all children and their families from detention to be processed in the community?
- Why couldn’t this government establish a more humane solution of community processing (that would also save $4.5 billion dollars a year) and boost regional economies by processing refugees in regional centres?
- Why couldn’t this government do more to address the flames of the building? We have just cut foreign aid, development and relief by $7.6 billion, whilst increasing the cost of imprisoning asylum seekers to $8.3 billion in the last budget. Increasing aid, increasing spending in peace building initiatives, rather than war machines, is what’s needed.
These are the questions I’m seeking to live. I find it unacceptable that the rhetoric of politicians reflects such a low opinion of the Australian public that it has lacked the creativity to live into these questions and respond to these vulnerable people with the dignity they deserve.
Australia could become a leader in a regional response by providing safe ladders out of these “burning buildings.”
Instead of saying “no way,” we must provide “safe ways” for people to seek asylum without risking their lives or being imprisoned for trying.
I believe love makes a way. Jarrod McKenna
Featured Images by Attila Shia: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/
What is it like to be an Armenian, Palestinian Christian living in Jerusalem in 2014?
by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Recently I attended a function to hear a gifted communicator talk about the plight of Palestinian Christians. Unfortunately for safety reasons I am unable to name this brave and compassionate speaker. Born and raised in Jerusalem, an ‘Armenian Palestinian Christian’. Armenians have a long, continuous presence in Jerusalem from the fourth century. Armenia was the first nation in 301 CE to adopt Christianity as its official faith . Here is some of what was shared at the event.
“Palestine, the word, the map, the people, they are all fragmented. They are a people who feel dispossessed, abandoned by the world and rejected from their own physical location. Disinherited”.
“Living in Jerusalem, every single day you feel conflict, heaviness and desperation. You feel very threatened and very alone. It takes a lot of energy to live in a place of conflict and it is a daily reflective process to make sure that you don’t become bitter”.
Most people when they talk about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict rarely talk about Christianity. It takes special reflection as a Christian to try to make sense of your role and identity and mission in the middle of a conflict. There are always other narratives involved. Each person tells you a different history and a different narrative.
There are many many sides to this story. There is a word in Hebrew for ‘face’ that is plural, in Hebrew you would say “How are your faces?” This is true of this area of the world, there are many faces to this story.
What is it like for a Palestinian Christian on a daily basis?
Well daily they are subjected to military checkpoints on the way to school and to work. Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible. Religious liberty is severely restricted with millions forbidden to visit the holy sites. In 1948 when Palestinians were dispossessed of land, they were given refugee status. Today there are 7 million Palestinians who still live with refugee status, they have been waiting for the right of return generation after generation. They have no status, no passport, no birth date even though they have been born and raised in Palestine.
The citizens of East Jerusalem do not carry an Israeli passport and the papers that they do have are not recognized by any authority.
Then there are the 1.5 million Palestinians who remained in Jerusalem and who have Israeli citizenship are called the ‘demographic threat’ because they are perceived as a threat to Jewish control. Life here is still very complicated. For example, the speaker, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, needs to apply for a visa every 2 years just to remain in her own home.
“Israel is facing a serious demographic challenge that threatens its future as both a democratic and a Jewish state. There are moral, political, and strategic dangers in preserving the territorial status quo.
Israel cannot remain a majority Jewish, democratic state, by indefinitely controlling the Palestinian territories.” Only a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can prevent this existential danger from becoming a reality” (Israels National Security Project – Sergio DellaPergola).
“The Palestinian territories or occupied Palestinian territories (OPT or oPt) comprise the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. The boundaries, subject to future negotiations, are generally regarded by the international community as being defined by the Green Line.
In 1980, Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem and considers the whole of Jerusalem to be its capital. The annexation was condemned internationally and declared “null and void” by the United Nations Security Council. The Palestinian National Authority, the United Nations, the international legal and humanitarian bodies and the international community” (Palestinian Territories Wikipedia).
In the West Bank, the disputed territories, 2.5 million Palestinians carry Palestinian passports. The fact that they live in the West Bank means that they cannot access the rest of the country. Israel is 10 minutes away but they are not permitted to travel there. They cannot even use the Tel Aviv airport, they have to travel to another country to catch a plane. They can see the beach from their houses but the will never be allowed to go to the beach.
This affects every aspect of someones life. Those living in Gaza, 1.6 million people, are land locked. Although they have a seacoast of their own, the continued delays in the construction of a seaport in Gaza have rendered it a de-facto land locked territory, isolated from global trade. They are not permitted to go anywhere. They cannot go to Israel or to any other country that surrounds them. All crossings into Gaza have been blocked off since 2007.
“In recent years, life in Gaza has been defined by the scarcity food, clothing, fuel and cargo. The markets are empty and there are fewer people and cars on the streets. many unemployed Gazans believe work in the tunnels is the only option available to them” Mohamed Harb.
That is why they dig tunnels. They dig tunnels to access supplies. Yes those tunnels are used to smuggle weapons and for warfare, but they are also used to smuggle lollies for their children, cows, nappies, bread, medicines, building materials and biscuits.
It is estimated that 7’000 Gazans scratch a living by working in the tunnels. There are thought to be around 1’000 tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel, most of them dug by hand.
The Tunnels of Gaza is a brilliant short film which aired on Al Jazeera on April 20,2014. It highlights the daily hardship of life in the Gaza strip and the result of the crippling siege. Here is the link. http://youtu.be/v1uatEfM7Xw
For Palestinians there is also the ongoing humiliation of going from one check point to another. Just to go to university each day involves violence and humiliation. Arrest is a constant fear and the lack of safety is something that you fear on a day-to-day basis. To be a Palestinian today does not matter any more, it is all about where you are born in a certain time in history. You are defined by your birth date and where you were born during what occupation.
It is very important to Palestinians for others around the world to be interested in Palestinians and the stories of Palestine. It is very important to feel that their is a national and international solidarity. When people talk about the conflict they talk about the politics, instead we need to look at the people and understand how it affects there movements, relationships, education and way of life. It is not just political, it is personal. Each person has the right to access education, to water, to basic services and basic human rights. It can be simplistic to just talk about peace, we need to talk about peace and justice.
Pope Francis recently extended an invitation to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and to Israeli President, Shimon Peres, to come to the Vatican and join him in praying to God for the gift of peace. He also said this:
“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace”, said Pope Francis,” I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.
All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective people s – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.
Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment.
The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace” (2014-05-26 Vatican Radio).
At the end of this event we were given a thin A4 booklet called ‘Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth’. This is a work of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. It is hoped that through this book the world will see and understand and suffering that is going on in Palestine and that Christians will unite and pray for peace and Justice for all in this part of the world. This is the opening paragraph.
Patriarchs and heads of churches Jerusalem
We hear the cry of our children.
We,the Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, hear the cry of hope that our children have launched in these difficult times that we still experience in this Holy Land. We support them and stand by them in their faith, their hope, their love and their vision for the future.
We also support the call to all our faithful as well as to the Israel and Palestinian Leaders, to the International Community and to the World Churches, in order to accelerate the achievement of justice, peace and reconciliation in this Holy land.
We ask God to bless all our children by giving them more power in order to contribute effectively in establishing and developing their community, while making it a community of love, trust, justice and peace.
Then it is signed by all of the heads of the churches. Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian Orthodox, Custodian of the Holy Land, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Maronite, Ethiopian, Greek Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Armenian Catholic. Dated Jerusalem December 15th 2009.
In this document these heads of the Church request the International community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced ‘oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel… we call out to all the Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region”.
This conflict has been going on for generations, it is complicated and it is often difficult to comprehend. However, one thing is simple. Each person on the planet deserves to be loved and deserves peace. Each person is valuable and should be treated with justice. We should all be advocates of peace in the Holy Land so that all people have an opportunity to live with dignity and justice. So that all people have the right of movement, the right of access, the right of education.
Let me finish with a scripture from the Holy Bible, Galatians 8:28-29
“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.
Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises”.
Please pray for all men women and children who suffer daily in this part of the world. They deserve peace, justice and freedom. Let us pray as Pope Francis indicated – “The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace”.
Hi there my friends, I thought that I would start the first Monday’s post by outlining where I would like us to go in this new season for us all. Some of you may only touch base with me on a Monday which is perfectly fine. It will be our Monday community. I will design these Monday meditations to be: 1: a learning experience 2: a practical experience. I am also very mindful that many of you will be reading these at work so they will be designed in order for you to take the time that you need at your desk. Allow min 5 or max 10 min out of you day for this even if it’s just once a week to start with (include reading the post in this time). Like any exercise:
- You have to start somewhere
- Start small
- You need encouragement: let’s do this together.
- You need community: as we comment on the posts and give feedback we can encourage each other. No comment is too small or too silly. Lets be positive in the comments.
- You can do this at any time of the day or night
All of us are in a different phase and stage of life. I have friends who are walking through cancer, divorce, ill-health, some are first time parents, jobless and some are in careers that are crazy and booming. Wherever we are , we all need self-care and time to nurture our inner worlds. We will be looking at two distinct topics and putting them into practise. 1: Meditation 2: Prayer Next week I will post specifically on Meditation; what is it and why we should do it. The week after that will be a post on Prayer: how to get yourself out-of-the-way so that you can listen to your inner soul and to the Spirit of God. Following that will be posts with specific exercises for you to do around these two spiritual practices. Heads Up:
- Meditation is an ancient practise that has many documented health benefits. The main premise being that you take time to de-clutter your inner world and to make room for silence, space, peace and inner health. A well-known stress reliever.
- Prayer is the “act and presence of sending light out from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free and bless them” (O’Donohue). Prayer is also friendship with God. Like any friendship, we speak and then we listen. Good friendship is more about listening and less about speaking. I find that most people treat God like Santa with endless ‘to do’ lists. Others just chat and speak and talk and talk. My hope, over the next months, is that you will begin to hear God speaking to you. He loves to talk, we just don’t often take the time to listen.
Make space in your day: Decide when you are going to read and practice Monday’s Meditations. If you are at work you may want to put on a pair of headphones when you take a break. At one time I shared an office space with four other creatives. I bought a large pair of Hot Pink headphones, when I put those on everyone knew that Lisa was in the “Don’t talk to me space”. Make sure you schedule a time in the day when you are able to have a break and would most likely not be interrupted. At home shut the door and turn your phone off. You may want to put some soft music on. If you only learn one thing this year it is that God is not ‘out there’, he is ‘right in here’. In our western dualistic thinking we have separated spirituality from our souls. Richard Rohr explains it much better than I ever could:
“I believe that God gives us our soul, our deepest identity, our True Self, our unique blueprint, at our ‘immaculate conception’. Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer within the product, at the beginning! We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own destiny to the full. If we do not, our True Self will never be offered again, in our own unique form….We do not make or create our souls, we grow into them….much of the job of spirituality is learning how to stay out-of-the-way of this rather natural growing and awakening”. Pg x Falling Upward by R. Rohr.
Whilst society preaches that life is all about addition. ie: what we obtain, what we get, what we can add to our lives. Spirituality is all about subtraction. The process of getting us out-of-the-way. Peeling back the layers, the hurts, the misconceptions and getting to know our ‘True Inner Selves’. We need to apply ourselves to do this. That is why spirituality is often linked with silence and solitude. Exercise: Breathing In the Hebrew culture the first word for God was YHVH, we know it today as YHWH or YAWHEY. Loosely it means “to be” or ‘to cause to exist’ or ‘to give life’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton). The spirit of YHVH is YHVH Himself, meaning ‘breath’ of the spirit. Religiously observant Jews are not allowed to say the name of God. When you sound out YHWH out loud it sounds like you are expelling a breath. I love that. Try it….. The word “Ruah” means, breath, mind, or wind or some invisible moving force (“spirit”). One of the most ancient practises of meditation is to learn to control your breathing.
Breaths come in pairs. Breathing in and breathing out. When you are born you take your first breath. When you die you expel your last breath. Your breath is the life force within you. The breath of God is the life force of creation. So for a few min now; sit in a comfortable position, shut out the world, close your eyes and listen and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and then breathe out – several times. Slowly. Listen to your breath. Let oxygen fill your diaphragm, energise your blood stream. Take time to expel it slowly………….. After a couple of min of getting in the rhythm of this. Add thoughts to your breath. Expel all negative thoughts or words that you have spoken in the last 24 hours. Breathe IN hope, promise, life, peace. Breathe OUT – hmmm…….. I let go of that negative thought, I let go of any unforgiveness. I Breathe IN – forgiveness, I breath in good health, I breath in good thoughts about myself. I breathe OUT anger, frustration…….disappointment. I breathe IN love, light, peace. This is a powerful exercise. It will regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. It will bring calmness and peace wherever you are. Neurologically it actually helps to rewire your brain into good ways of thinking. Practice all the time whenever you are able. Like anything, the more you practice the deeper the benefit and the quicker the calming effect.
Fantastic if you suffer from anxiety.
Breath OUT all fear and anxiety.
Breathe IN love, safety, peace.
Focus on your breath, feel it move over your lips, listen to the sound of your breath. REPEAT.
If you suffer from anxiety you may just need to do just this bit for several minutes. If you practice this regularly then when you begin to have an anxiety attack you will be prepared to take control of you breathing and moderate the effects.
Let me know how you go. I’m busting to hear how you feel after doing this and if you continue to practise it through the week.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26 Bible
Bless you. May you find peace and rest this week. Love Lisa.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdomby John O’Donohue I am absolutely besotted with this book. In Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” the ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic wisdom provide such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death as:
- Light is generous
- The human heart is never completely born
- Love as ancient recognition
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Lifeby Richard Rohr
- A must for every book shelf
- Explains why the second half of life can and should be full of spiritual richness
- Offers a new view of how spiritual growth happens?loss is gain