Sunday, 15 July 2018

Unintended consequences

So often we make our decisions having formulated what it is we intend. Thus, we make plans for a fundraiser or an event to enhance our understanding of the scriptures or even an event to harmonise relationships between religions.In putting the event, whatever it may be, on we think to ourselves what a wonderful opportunity and when everything goes smoothly we congratulate ourselves on a wonderful event. Sometimes unbeknownst to us our event causes a ripple in the life of someone or a group to the extent that we eventually find ourselves at odds with those around us. The event drags up memories / old arguments / discomfort and sows confusion and doubt rather than bringing harmony and acceptance. The consequence which was unintended. We can see these unintended consequences play out in the story of John the Baptist and David (Mk.6-14-29; 2 Sam 6.12b-19).

Dancing expresses God's Spirit but how often do we frown and seek our own view

Often the result of the unintended consequence is that we actually cut of our heads as opposed to creating new life. Our intentions are good but the result is the opposite to what we would think. God creates through the chaos of our lives forming newness in community. In laying our plans we often times make unintentional slips which cause continued angst with those around us, an unintended consequence. However, let us look at it from a slightly different perspective. When slip ups occur what is our immediate reaction and perhaps this gives us an idea as to where we are. If our immediate reaction is to agonise over it and want to rectify how we do things, does this say something to us. In trying to rectify every small thing that nags at our attention because we are offended, discombobulated, prefer perfection are we missing the presence of God and ignoring the opportunity for laughter and joy. Do we look at only the shortsightedness of human sight rather than the long sight of God's presence in the chaos of our lives.

Herod's intention was to reward a dance but the unintended consequence was the death of John. If we are so focused on what we intend perhaps it will lead to the disruption of what we actually desire in God's presence. By creating our own individual sight and focus we ignore what may be happening around us. John's death reverberated through the community also something unintended but something that in all probability opened the community up to hear God's presence in Christ's teaching. David's dance before the ark of God was inspired by the Spirit but frowned on by his wife. Something that would have long repercussions on the life of David. Yet, is this the message or rather that we need to examine the pettiness of the wife as she focuses on her own image rather than the image of God that brings laughter and dance into our midst.

In organising ourselves and our life as the body of Christ we all have responsibilities to that life. If we begin to believe that our insights are greater than God's then we will begin to find some unintended consequences crossing our path. Is it not God's will to bring peace and yet we forge war and discord. We focus on our own needs rather than the needs of the God of peace in doing so the seeds of unintended consequences are sown in such a manner that we find our selves not with peace but with discord. Following God means expressing the truth in the world, until we can accept God into our lives we cannot deem to speak as an agent for God. Our agency becomes for ourselves with the resultant chaos out of which God will renew life. Let us rather listen to God and not judge what we perceive to be right or the road to perfection. Our judgements will tend to lead us to unintended consequences in the lives around us, sowing discord rather than the peace of God that passes all understanding.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Acceptance - Whats the big deal?

I wonder if we actually realise how obstructive we can be when it comes to our own insights as opposed to others who are as insightful but not quite the way we want. We are very quick to criticise and oppose what we consider to be something that is contrary to our ingrained beliefs. Just as Christ was rejected from his home town (Mk 6.1-6) so we reject those whose point of view or actual insight appears to challenge ours. We are always right, whether it is in a worldly sense or in a faith sense we are never averse to challenge rather than accepting what God has chosen. Acceptance is not rolling over and submitting it is acknowledging God and moving our lives to accord with God, seeing with God's eyes and behaving accordingly. We are often prone to jump on the smallest details that do not accord with our sight to obstruct what God asks what we do not want to hear.

Even David when he is crowned king of Israel (2 Sam. 5. 1-10) does not start out as the best but makes mistakes as he goes against God. It is something that the greatest amongst us does but then understands the mistakes and reconciles themselves with God to renew and regenerate God's people. Paul writing to the Corinthians freely admits his own weaknesses (2 Cor. 12.7-10). It is through the acknowledgement and acceptance of that weakness Paul is able to tell of his journey with God. This is where we need to find our strength and were we create our challenges. Paul states that it is through his weakness that he is strong. His strength is his acceptance of God's challenge to him in his weakness not his ability to boast of his own endeavours and strength. By acceptance Paul has demonstrated his strength not by his fighting that weakness. We see weakness as a disabling thing, our inabilities are looked for and used against us so that those who are looking for power and authority may find ways to undermine and overthrow. It is in weakness that we are able to show love.

It is only when we can accept ourselves that we can accept Christ

Strength looks for weakness to exploit, it gives us leverage to move us on in life and we are always looking for weakness so that we can exploit it to gain more power. This is not the Gospel way as the Gospel shows us the way of love not exploitation. Walking alongside Christ we can see his astonishment as he is rejected because it would be ours as well when we are also rejected from those we think love us. The home community, the originary place are places which are supposed to be loving and safe. We also reject and do not love as Christ did. Our commission is to be as Christ to the world bringing people into discipleship. Once we start thinking about things for ourselves we begin to loose our acceptance of Christ as part of our lives. Once we take on crusades which are not those of Christ we begin not to walk with Christ and accept him in our lives. We become like his own village people who scorn and reject knowing that Christ walks with us.

Christ never said it was easy even Paul recognises that sometimes it is really hard especially when you have someone close who is a detractor. A thorn in the side is sometimes a reminder to us that we need to be more accepting of Christ and his love for the other. We cannot just continue rejecting the fact that God and Christ enjoins us to love and live with all of humanity not just those we think we like. If we have truly accepted Christ we truly accept the rest of humanity. We do not have to like them, we have to love them and form community with them as Christ has formed community with us. Loving us for our failings and not for our good qualities only. Let us get over ourselves and begin to accept that Christ is with us and that means all of humanity not just the ones we think we like..

Sunday, 1 July 2018

What follows lament?

We all know that it is sometimes extremely cathartic to lament as David did over the death of Jonathan (2 Sam 18-27). Indeed the whole of lamentations is an extreme moment of cathartic liberation. But what comes afterwards? Once we have finished our moment of lament how do we get back into the moment and begin again or rather continue doing that which we have discerned as being the forward movement of the Church. Sometimes it seems that as an organisation we tend to live in the moment of lament and ask all of those around us to be there with us rather than moving on into the light of Christ in the community.

Paul in his encouragement to the Corinthians speaks about our willingness to begin anew and start something but then comes his most important words "Now go on and finish it" (2 Cor 8.11a). We are just as likely to fall back into the moment of Lament as we are to move forward with the understanding of Christ is by our side. Even in the most inauspicious moments in our lives when we believe there is no hope Christ is there to bring hope. Once we have begun something we need to finish it. We began at baptism with our lives in Christ and as soon as we begin to move into the world we tend to forget our commitment and lament our loses rather than continue on in the commitment to Christ. This falling away is both institutional and personal as we swirl in the crowds of everyday life forgetting that Christ is close to us. It takes courage to reach out in the midst of our despair to try and touch the fringes of the Christic presence. We become discouraged and loose ourselves rather than finding the courage to stretch out and touch to be made whole. Just like the hemorrhagic woman in Mark's gospel (5.25-34) we need the courage of our convictions and not the voice of the crowd.

Have we the faith to reach out from the midst of lament?

In or institutions what happens is that we are set on a way forward onto a path and then when our leader / inspiration moves into another role / life / place we look for another to take their place. Yet, what happens is that another comes and replaces our visions with new ones so that we have to begin again lamenting once more the past. What we are failing to do is grab hold of our vision and running with that vision of Christ by our side to the fulfilment of God's design. Its not you or me it is all of us collectively as Christians. We are like the leader of the synagogue in Mark's gospel that the hemorrhagic woman's story interrupts. We see the death of something we have given birth to or rather we see its imminent demise and believe that that is the end. What if it is not, what if like the daughter in the story the idea is just sleeping deeply only to be woken by Christ;s presence (Mk 5.39-43)? So often we believe the professional mourners and do not have the courage to see the spark of life that is Christ in our midst.

We have a tendency to laugh at the ideas of others that would like to take on the path that Christ has walked rather than join with Christ in the walk and be lights along the way. Hope is so easily besmirched and its light hidden by the callousness of modern society. This is especially the case when we involve ourselves in lament. There is a time and place just as David understood but then we must re-visualise the hope that Christ gives us by standing within our midst and healing the old injuries and bring back into the light and joy of love the dead dreams that we put to the side to lament.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

To kill giants

Some years ago now I attended a conference in Johannesburg which brought together well over one and half thousand Christians. The theme of the conference was "Giants" the ones that were looming and that needed to be identified and killed as David killed Goliath (1 Sam 17). The giants that the conference were talking about were things that were embedded in the country; poverty, education, discrimination, corruption, etc. These are not simple things but as Christians we are told that slaying giants is very easy if God is beside us, not on our side because that implies that there are sides, rather that God is beside us walking along the way. In our times of giant facing and fear that comes with it is the need to understand that God walks next to us and gives us hope and courage to see our way through to ending the menace posed by the giant.

We all face giants at some time in our lives. Those giants may seem totally impossible to overcome and get around to continue our lives. For some those giants may be intimately personal, depression say, or the loneliness confronting us with the death of someone close. They may be slightly more distant such as persistent debt, mortgage repayments, etc. They may not affect us directly but may affect a community to which we belong, escalating costs, reduction in membership, etc. They of course may also be large and affect everyone such as those tackled by the conference. It does not matter what the size of our personal or collective giants are we need to confront them in the same manner that David did with five pebbles taken from the stream of life. It is all very well to reel of some simple things like, faith, walking with God, love, hope and prayer as examples of pebbles to take into a fight. In the end David used only one of the pebbles not all five, So each pebble is good for one shot at the giants that face us and we have to discern which pebble to use so that we effectively destroy the giant. Is it really as simple as that?

What are your giants and can you face them?

No, it is not. Giants are however easily killed what is not so easy is the courage that David had to face the terrors that the giants form in us. Remember that the rest of the army was terrified of the giant and it was that group terror that paralysed their actions. It was the realisation and example of one person that allowed for the success of the whole. Paul puts it slightly differently in the Corinthian correspondence but essentially the same thought is their and he leads through example in adversity (2 Cor 6. 1-13). We are to be lights in the world, a world that is filled with giants. Giants that reach out into our hearts and kill us through the fears that creep in as we try to face them. Just as the disciples feared the gathering storm (Mk 4.35-41) we also fear what we cannot easily control. Yet, when the light of Christ is shone into the darkness we are able to overcome the fears and reach out to those who are around us and fear as well. Hope, love, prayer, faith etc are all their to help us in our journey travelling along the way that Christ has opened for us. Conquering the fears that overwhelm us in the presence of God. Facing challenge changes us, facing fear heals us, facing the giants makes us a community to be feared.

Only when we truly overcome the terrors that confront us as a family and community joined together will we become as Christ to our neighbours. Even at the darkest moment in our lives, if we look carefully, we will find that Christ's light is beside us guiding us along the stormy way into the brightness of a new future. The grace of God is God's love which out-pours and guides us into new life only when we release that love are we empowered by it. In hoarding it and not using it we limit ourselves. Imagine David not using the pebbles but rather the armour given to him by Saul. He would not have overcome the giant. Relying on God allows us to drop the weight that others place on us, the weight of expectation, as they magnify the fear that comes with facing the giant. Only by God's grace and Christ's light are we able to perform the miracles that God wants for us.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

God does not see as we see

We look at our surroundings through the eyes of our own biases and prejudices, many of which our unconscious and un-acknowledged. In promoting our own way of seeing we may be directly contravening God's requirements for us and thus we are not living up to Christ within us. Samuel grieved not understanding what God was undertaking but responded to God's call upon his life to anoint David rather than his own expectations (1 Sam 15.34-16.13). Christ tells the parable of the mustard seed and the man sowing and having the result grow without his knowledge (Mk 4.26-34). We are blinded in the same way by our own supposed wants and needs. We often quarrel and complain about words, about thoughts, about ideas rather than allowing God's voice to speak to us and open our eyes in understanding.

By being bounded by our own passions we do not see or hear God's voice speaking to us. We make choices based on our understanding, just like Samuel would have done. Samuel's choices were based on his bias, his unacknowledged prejudice as to what he thought a good King should be. We often deny others the ability to interact with God as a result. The thing that needs to be put to rest before we enter into any long term plan for our community and the family of God is our understanding of what God wants. The call of God is made at baptism when parents and godparents are asked to bring their children up into a relationship with God. That relationship opens us up to the other and we allow ourselves to become part of a community that heralds in an era of understanding and listening. We are asked not to place our views on others or to go with our own views but we are asked to listen to God before disrupting relationship. Samuel was forced by God to listen to God not to jump with his own conclusions as to who was going to be the better king. Godparents are asked to set an example for their children and part of that is setting the example of listening for God's voice, the voice of faith and the other before choosing our path.

New life begins without our help but with God's grace - nurture it do not rip it out

We are happy to wield the power that we think we have because we know better, we have studied more, we belong to groups that promote our way of thinking but what we rarely do is ask if this is what God wants. Our causes may be good, our wishes may be beneficial but that does not negate the idea that God must guide us. The godparents have a tough time ahead when introducing a new child of God to the faith. It is their responsibility to show their child what it means to respond to God. We are often the ones that fail our duty to our children and as a result we become embittered and lost in our own unconscious biases  not listening and not reacting to God's presence. This often destroys community rather than building it. It sets our own measures in place and not God's measures which means we fail to live up to the reconcilatory grace of God's presence. We set up our structures to reflect what we want not what we are asked for within our own lives and those of the body of Christ. We often fail to die as Christ dies and as the child dies in the waters of baptism. If we are unable to die to Christ we are unable to rise again in the new life that is Christ. Only when we become strong in Christ do we begin to proclaim the Gospel of God and not the gospel of our own biases.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

What is your building made of?

When it comes to building and building materials we have a lot to choose from. There have been some fascinating video clips on social media showing various houses being built using a number of quick and easy building methodologies. From wooden Lego style strips to brick laying robots. Yet as we all know, or should know that it is the careful selection of materials and design of the house that makes all the difference in terms of building a home. If we are not careful with our design we find that in the years to come we become dissatisfied and complain about the things we should have done or make additions that are never complete. Often we do not think of the future and what happens is that we end up with something that becomes high maintenance or problematic when we reach our old age and our dream house becomes our concrete necklace around our necks.

Where and what we build is up to us, so long as we glorify God in doing so

In the same way our faith lives are built around careful planning and the use of correct building materials. Whilst tradition is our foundation a stone that is centred in Christ the rest is entirely up to us. We can build cathedrals that glorify God or we can build hovels that hide the light of God away or we can build prisons behind which we cower locked away unable to proclaim the goodness and life that is found in God  The first step in the building plan is to believe in God and in Christ. Until we have that foundation set we cannot build a structure that will last. All we will do is build with sticks and pebbles on sand waiting for our structures to be washed away by the currents of modern life. If we are to build a building that is worthy to sing God's praises with those around us (2 Cor 4.15), we need to ensure that our faith is grounded in Christ's very body and life.

Christ seemingly rejects our preconceptions by rejecting the family (Mk. 3.32-35) but then re-affirms that all of humanity who does God's will is family. In breaking our tradition and the strands that bind us to our biological family Christ re-forges them with those who are doing God's will. Not only does he appeal to tradition, the tradition inherent in everything that family means, but he also builds on it to form a new and longer lasting building that is the community of believers formed on the life of Christ. In our own faith lives we need to build on our tradition and not allow it to conform ourselves. Our building materials nowadays are different to what they where. We can still build cathedrals but they will be different to what they were. We need to realise our own faith journeys so that we can build communities that shine with Christ's love. God was somewhat horrified that the Israelites wanted a King (1 Sam 8.4-20) but still went ahead and allowed this change in tradition. It was to build on something that had gone before in terms of justice and peace. Unfortunately, the Israelites chose the wrong building substrate and ended up with Saul. Sometimes we to choose the wrong way and end up building ourselves a Jail rather than a Cathedral. Sometimes we over rely on what has gone before to determine what is to come.

Only when we build on the firm foundation with the building blocks that we discover in and on our journey of faith do we find God's grace helping us along the way. Sometimes it means changing ourselves as much as changing our community and the way we do things. In contemplating the future we need to recognise the past but allow our faith to bring us to the place of God's grace even if this is unlike anything we have had before.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hearing God or hearing ourselves

Old Eli took a lot of persuading for him to understand that it was God who called the young Samuel (1 Sam. 3.1-10). Whilst we often suggest that it is prudent to listen and discern God's call in our lives and our lifetime, I wonder how often we actually heed the call as opposed to allowing ourselves to turn over and go back to sleep? Perhaps too often we rely on tradition to suffice and become the call of God. Christ had something to say with regards this type of use of tradition, basically along the lines of "wake up sleepy heads, that is you speaking not God" (Mk 2.23-3.6). The structures of the Church and its institutionalisation are often to blame for this behaviour just as it was at the time of Christ. By placing our reliance on the things that have worked and are working we place ourselves in a place that is often blind to God's working. God cannot be asking us to do that because... We only have to look at the charismatic movement in recent times and the young burgeoning Church in history to see that this is wrong thinking.

How can we wake up and realise that God is calling us to be different and follow where God leads and not where others in the Church want us to believe he leads? How do we tune out, as it were, the noise of the ego's of others and find time for God so that he can lead us? Perhaps the first thing to think about is our own faith lives. It is after all up to us to hear when God speaks and to discern the truth. We cannot do that when we are involved in other things, however worthy they may be. It really could be our children, our livelihoods our passions that distract us so much so that we forget that an integral part of our own life is entwined in the life of Christ. We become ingrained in the habit of Church rather than the habit of faith. Paul sums it up considerable well in the second letter to the Corinthians (4.7-12). We are earthen vessels, we do get distracted, we do follow our own endeavours and we do forget God in our lives. Yet, after all is said and done God is still present, God is still leading if we were only to set time aside for God. We are inclined to make excuses and we are inclined to follow what has gone before. Then when we are given the freedom to undertake a new thing we find ourselves being heavily critiqued for branching out and so wallow in doubt or fear. So we need to spend more time with God.

If we do not listen we cannot hear. 

In granting ourselves the freedom to be with God we are given a greater gift as God's grace becomes manifest within us. The time that we thought we would lose as a result of intentional time with God, is in fact time gained rather than lost. It does however mean that we need to be intentional rather than rely on our habits. This means that time spent with God needs to come at times when we do not come before God out of habit, i.e. Sunday morning. Rather it is time that we deliberately set aside during the week to commune with God. In allowing us this luxury we allow God to direct and enter into our lives more fully. If we do not, we will sleep through the call by God and not respond. or if we do it will be at the last moment and in our rush to respond we will listen to ourselves rather than to God. Rather let us start to put aside time to listen to God and leave ourselves behind. Our wants do not accord with God's but rather oppose all that God has given for us. It is time we start to understand that it is not just service but it is service in the name of God that brings forth love into the world. Be true to God and we will be true to our true selves loving our communities and ensuring that the young strive to become God's children in the world.