I have to confess to a touch of aversion to the "emerging church" tag. Sounds a little too institutional to be put into such a box...
But I realise that the key issue for our community, as we seek to model spirituality and community in a dynamic way, is that we are often shaped by the institutional church - at least in a distinctive and "other" way.
There are those who are shaped by the institutional church from the inside: they are comfortable with its models of faith and mission. Then there are those who have moved out because they are not comfortable with those models. In this place it is easy to be affected by the institutional church inasmuch as it models what one is not trying to be - we are defined 'over-against' the institutional church.
A third place is the one where faith and community is worked out without any reference to what the institutional church is doing. Rather than reacting to or against it, one proactively shapes community and faith in the immediate context. In some aspects it may look like the institutional church. In others, it bears no resemblance at all.
Having my faith formed inside the institutional church, the last place is a difficult one for me to be. It is not "emerging" from the traditional church, but organically (and one suspects, somewhat spontaneously) growing in different places.
It is from those who don't even know the institutional church that I have much to learn in this regard. And the lessons often make me feel uncomfortable.
Good to be back tonight in the midst of our "Sacred Space". Funny how the end of January seems to mark the beginning of the new year here in Melbourne. School starts in the morning for our three (although for most it went back last week), our regular events start to ramp up again - our first movie night in 2005 is on tomorrow night.
We spent some time reflecting on the question "Who are you?", using a clip from John Safran vs God to spark our thinking. It is really an uncomfortable question to face, as Safran found when amongst Zen Buddhists in Japan. It does, however, shape a lot of our response towards others. I suspect Being John Malkovich might take us down the pathway of similar considerations....
For a number of years there has been an old beige box - our former computer - sitting underneath its replacement. I don't know why I kept it. Perhaps it says something about my penchant for hoarding. Anyway, given that our youngest is a constant tweaker, and the most dangerous sort: he does to try things out, not out of knowledge - I decided I might resurrect this beast for his enjoyment alone.
I had no idea what was stored on this machine, but when I switched it on, it took an eternity to start up. It was not always like this. This state-of-the-art machine, with 4mb RAM, and a 220mb HDD with its racy 486 DX2-66 processor, used to absolutely rip into action. It must be complaining about lack of use for a few years, because I had to go away to make coffee in order to give it time to do its stuff.
It now has two HDDs (total 1.2Gig) and 20mb RAM, but is still way behind the ball game. I shudder to think about how many generations back this processor comes from, or the RAM chips for that matter.
Still, it might be more useful than a paperweight... at least for a little while, until S finishes tweaking it. Then it will be paperweight material only.
Only 11 years old and its been on the scrap heap for 4 years!
Returning home at the end of holidays... thoughts of work, school, and other routines start to find a place closer to the front of the mind. Changing one good thing for another!
Seems last night's storms were the worst in decades. News reports called it "a mini-cyclone" Two storms apparently 'collided', bringing over 80 mm of rain, flash flooding. More forecast for the next 24 hours. I'll keep the camera ready again!
A wonderful lightning show last night - an electrical storm which lasted for over 6 hours. Full sound and lights, courtesy of nature. Had a lot of fun with the camera, trying to capture some shots. Thankfully there were many opportunities.
Again we see the powerful force of nature: an electrical storm releasing much more power and energy than any nuclear device ever created. The most powerful things we create are still only shadows of the creation...
Great cartoon from this morning's paper:
Tried to live it out by spending the morning at the beach. It was a scorching day, even before the sun had crossed the meridian. People of all shapes, sizes and ages parade themselves up and down the beach. I was watching an elderly man walking from the water towards his towel, his chest puffed out, stomach drawn in, and arms swinging in the manner of the gym junkie. From where I sat, this man looked in his 70s, but I wonder what he saw from his own perspective.
Do we really understand how others see us?
I occasionally compare myself with my own father at the same age. He seemed much older than I at the same age, and his father likewise before him... but I wonder whether my own children will say the same in relation to me. Do I look my age? Does it matter? Or is it more important that I have a healthy self-perspective?
Our new family member is proving to be an intrusion into the holiday mood: waking up in the wee hours of the morning, and then ensuring that no-one else is resting. It is one thing for the cat to call for some food, it is quite another to be struggling for breath while the cat tries to nest on your face. And when that fails to suffice, she sharpens her claws on any piece of available skin.
And here I was thinking that we had left our days of interrupted sleep behind...
Spent over three hours on the road today. I had to break into holidays - teaching staff spent their first day back at school in preparation for the new school year. I have to admit, it is nice leaving the city for the coast at the end of the day, and switch off again.
Holidays pass too quickly.
It was on this day in 1972 that a Japanese soldier was discovered on Guam, still upholding his WW2 oath. No-one had communicated to him that the war was ended, so he faithfully continued his duties.
While our first instinct might be to laugh at such a person, Shoichi Yokoi reminds me of much activity of the church today – fighting wars which have long since ended while another – much more important challenge – takes place on the doorstep. The attitude of the Catholic church to funerals is one example of many. How many fights continue over doctrinal matters while the need on our doorstep continues to grow? We spend a lot of time filling committee and roster positions in churches while the work of ministry to the community remains neglected. Many still argue over styles of worship and versions of scripture while those outside the church continue to pass by without even a second look.
We can remain faithful, and yet be totally misguided.
Keys... being a guy, I spend a lot of time looking for them. Today was no exception. Sadly, after more than an hour of searching, I found them in the very first place I had looked. How often that happens to me! One advantage is that I have cleaned up my car somewhat, along with a couple of other places. I suspect that people searching for keys either end up with a tidier place, or a messier one. I am usually the former.
Searching for keys is a life-long occupation: keys to happiness, to learning, to relationships, to understanding. The keys we choose represent the faith we hold: the foundations on which we build. From time to time we are required to change keys: we move to a new place, get a new car, or have a new lock installed. Sometimes keys wear out and need to be renewed. Some find comfort in having their keys in their pocket (I know that would have been true for me a couple of days ago!)
It pays us to take out our keys and examine them again every now and then: our understanding of God, our sense of vocation and purpose...
I’d be interested in hearing what keys are most important for your life’s journey.
Powers in the Catholic Church in Australia are making a bid to reclaim the traditional Catholic funeral service at the expense of a personalised one. They are concerned that the telling of a person’s life story and displaying memorabilia somehow distracts from the message the church exists to proclaim. These things, it is argued, are better suited to a wake or other gathering, but not the funeral service itself. I think the Catholic church is badly mistaken.
God has revealed himself through human stories: the Bible is replete with them, each serving as a doorway for us to experience and know God. It is the task of the church at the time of a funeral to allow each person’s story to be told, and to let it serve as a doorway into human understanding of God. To set the church’s needs and the needs of the family and friends in conflict is to marginalise each other, and have a detrimental impact on the mission of the church.
That people who do not otherwise attend church ask for a church funeral service is an indication of a desire to find a connection with matters of faith at a critical time. By offering a pre-packaged service disconnected from the particular circumstances of the people, the church is showing no compassion. Isn’t it our desire to be remembered, and part of the gospel story that we are remembered by God? Shouldn’t the funeral service reflect this memory: that this person and his/her deeds are remembered by God and us?
This artificial distinction between rites of the church and human experience undermines the power of the gospel message, and of the human story to reflect and encapsulate it.
In the West we operate in a very broad environment, including in relation to people’s understandings and expressions of faith. At The Eighth Day, we recognise that there is great strength in embracing and learning from this diversity. Each of us sees our faith in different ways, and is nourished in our journey differently. Some are predominantly visual, others tactile, still others conversational or reflective by preference. Although we are all ‘refugees’ in one sense from the traditional church, we still are learning to define our faith in constructive and proactive ways, rather than defining ourselves by the things we walked away from. In this journey, we are learning that not everything we walked away from needs to be left behind...
This wonderful new vehicle turned around to bite me with its technology today. As I was making wonderful use of the remote boot opening feature, I closed the boot with keys sitting safely alongside all of my things - inside the boot! It was an hour later, with the help of some not-so-high-technology of the roadside assist, coupled with an 'encouraging' phone call from a 'helpful' relative, before I was back on the road.
Which makes me wonder when they will devise foolproof techonology for fools like me???!
Continued the holiday moving watching last night with The Butterfly Effect, a movie which projects itself as a proponent of chaos theory. Its opening screen records : "It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world". However, the film is a rather more sophisticated version of Back the Future 2, which projects simultaneous/parallel realities, which can be accessed at critical moments.
The film raises a lot of good questions about the nature of reality, and in relation to perspectives on mental illness (not unlike A Beautiful Mind). It also highlights the power of a single choice to affect our futures.
But, if we had our time over again, would we make any better choices? Evan, the main character in the movie, has a number of opportunities to make the future better, but he is unable to gain the ‘ideal future’ he desires. Each time his “correction” brings unintended consequences.
I wonder whether, if any of us could alter choices we had made at critical moments in the past, the outcome would be satisfactory in every respect?
Today we unpacked and inflated... (and inflated... and inflated...) a boat which one of our children received for Christmas, then tried to introduced them to the fine art of rowing. Talk about counter-intuitive! They all wanted to face the way they wanted to go and consequently had difficulty learning how to row. All of them gave up in frustration after a short time.
It reminds me of a neglected aspect of leadership: working out where you are going by looking at where you have been. History is one of the great determinants of any organisation’s immediate future, and needs to be addressed in order to move forward. These are the times we need to “row” an organisation – leading by looking backwards. If we do not understand what happened to bring the organisation to its present place, we are in danger of making choices which simply reinforce the things we want to change. Some unusual reactions to suggestions and ideas can be explained on the basis of historical events.
A good leader knows the history of the organisation before they arrived. People who know the history control the future.
It always surprises when we have open and unstructured times of worship and reflection. During the service last night, people were invited to light a candle and float it on the pond, expressing their prayer/reflection of hope in relation to the areas affected by the tsunami.
The children provided some powerful reflections from their own perspective: thinking of those who had no parents, no homes, no schools... the things which impact them are at a different level to the adults.
Yet, recurring through the evening were pictures of hope and despair: people whose lives were spared under the most amazing circumstances, alongside those where two people were standing together and only one survived, while the other was taken.
To borrow an image from Henri Nouwen, it seems that hope and despair kiss one another in such times....
Our community Sacred Space tonight will focus on the power of water. Given that today has been declared a day of national mourning for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, we will reflect upon water's life-giving and life-destroying power.
Having constructed a small pool in the centre of our worship space, we will float candles in memory and place rocks in the water, watching the ripples of disturbance flowing out. A range of texts from the Bible will be available and read as we pray, raise our laments and questions, and reflect on the characteristics of water: something we need to live, yet which has the power to overwhelm and destroy.
The place of water in the story of Israel - deliverance from Egypt, Jonah, Noah, and others, will be recognised. We will then reflect on our own life-giving and life-destroying capacity.
Tomorrow has been declared a day of national mourning by Australia's Prime Minister, in which churches are encouraged to hold services of remembrance. Our community has now held three different times of reflection and prayer, as well as promoting a fund-raising event, which gained quite a lot of community support.
While I appreciate the gesture, does it comes across as almost too late? After all, it has been nearly three weeks since the tsunami struck, there has already been a very broad community-based response, and the effects will be felt for months, even years. Cynicism towards governments in such circumstances isn't abated when it is discovered that much of the aid money promised doesn't eventuate, or is made in the form of interest-free loans, thus burdening these poorer countries with even greater debt.
Australians have been responsed with great compassion, and it is a great encouragement to see people's open-hearted generosity.
Changed the old car for something a little more modern yesterday… moved from cassette to CD, amongst other things. Makes me wonder how long it will be before we get MP3 players in cars.
Spent a couple of hours day rearchiving my year's writings on my own web page. The writings become a journal of their own in relation to journey in ministry and church. There are a few hundred articles spanning back 15 years, and a lot more still to be posted. It is easy to forget how one's ideas change and grow with the passing of years.
I suppose there is only one thing worse than having one's ideas change with the years - having them not change at all.
News today of a survivor who spent fifteen days floating on the sea after the Tsunami washed him off his Indonesian island... Mind-boggling! Geologists are recalibrating the Andaman Islands to measure the impact of the earthquake. Satellite images of Trinkat island show that it is now two islands - the water having cut it in half. The earth's rotation has been affected, slightly changing the earth's shape and shifting the North Pole by 2.5cm. By every measure this has been an event of cosmic proportions.
But it still causes me to ask whether we can really call it a 'natural disaster'? We have spent decades drilling through the earth's crust in search of oil, which we have extracted from below, and replaced with something different (alien?). Explosions, both tests and exploration, continue to rock the sea bed in different places. The air is polluted, the flow of rivers disrupted and polluted, the ecological balance constantly shifted... We are playing with dynamite and every now and then it comes back to bite us. While we naturally ask where God was in it all, we ought to pause and ask what humanity has done that has sparked it all.
BTW, one impact is that every day is shorter by 2.68 microseconds. Does the time seem to be passing more quickly????
Amazing how often it happens: you get an idea and the thought seems to chase you around.
After writing yesterday's post, with its allusion to the artificial distinctions often made in relation to faith and spirituality, I picked up John Piper's book "Desiring God". In the introduction, Piper speaks of the distinction we make between worshipping God and enjoying him forever, as if somehow the two were incompatible.
I hear the same sentiments in relation to different areas of life: affirming that God invented joy and pleasure for us, yet we act as though the spiritual life is dull and self-denying? the implied belief that sex is not something beautiful to be enjoyed (when was the last time you heard a preacher talk of the joy of sex?); that eating a beautiful meal is to share the taste of God's kingdom; that the refreshment of a glass of cool water on a hot day is partaking of God's gift?
Sure, we can go too far and create a "spiritual life" which is entirely self-indulgent, but is that a reason for denying the good things which God gives us to enjoy?
For example, we endeavour to build joy into our acts of service. Our sausage sizzle for Southern Asia was a great time of meeting people, and sharing together. We really enjoyed the time of ministry together, as is the case with our monthly church meetings (which enjoy a 100% attendance), and all other church activities. When Jesus said "I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly" he did mean that there would be joy in it.
And when it comes to the darker moments of life, we find that there is a deeper bond which enables us to walk through them together.
The church has - it seems - made an artificial distinction between the holy and the everyday, which has become increasingly reflected in the dichotomy between church and community. What happens in most churches bears little resemblance with what happens in the lives of its people between Sundays. We have created religious enclaves, not just in buildings and times, but in every part of our lives.
It has always fascinated me that Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God by utilising images from the ordinary, every-day life of a first century Palestinian Jew. He impregnated the ordinary - a sower going out to sow, a woman looking for a lost coin, a shepherd guarding sheep - with kingdom meaning. From that time forward, the person doing their ordinary tasks was also engaged in reflection upon God's kingdom, and their part in it.
Of course, we don't have the same access to camels, ploughs and the like in inner-city Melbourne. But I wonder how often we have taken time to think about the way things about us reflect God's kingdom? How would Jesus' parable be written: "The kingdom of God is like a worker at a desk... a driver in a taxi... a shopper in the city..."??
While we persist with foreign images of God at work, we are doomed to separating true spirituality and true faith from the ordinary moments of our day.
The post-Christmas period provides, among other things, opportunity to catch up on movies and DVDs which I have not had time to watch during the year. So far the count - since Christmas Day - is up to 11.
Last night E (my wife) and I sat down to watch The Last Samurai, a Tom Cruise epic set in the 1870s. The film offers interesting insight to different values and insights of different cultures, particularly related to death. One clear example is the idea of "an honourable death", so entrenched in many parts of the world, yet alien to the West, which tends to see all death as a waste.
The practice of the 18th century upper classes of having an image depicting death adorning the walls of their living areas (as depicted in the series Status Anxiety, the TV series and book by Alain de Botton) reflects a vastly different attitude to life and death than that which prevails today.
The movie was not one which initially appealed (at least, to me), but it kept us both to the end - which was not bad consdering we had planned to watch the first hour or so, then defer to another night....
Our church community has a wonderful knack of bringing rain to drought-stricken Melbourne. Although we are eight years into a drought, each of our community activities manages to attract rain.
Yesterday afternoon and evening we held a sausage sizzle, followed by a prayer vigil, to raise funds to assist the work of organisations working in Southern Asia in the wake of the tsunami. Our sausage sizzle came to an abrupt end when the heavens opened and rain pelted down - but not before we had raised over $1100. (The church will add another $1000 to that effort).
Our previous sausage sizzle to raise funds for the Darfur region of Western Sudan, turned out to be the coldest and wettest day in Melbourne in over 20 years.
And to top it off, every other event (three carols in the Park and a community concert in April) also brought the rain!
I wonder if the farmers would sponsor us at appropriate times to help their crops :-)
I was never been one to follow the liturgical year. Being brought up in the free church tradition, we celebrated the major events: Easter and Christmas, and occasionally Pentecost, but these were generally limited to the day, or week preceding. But this year I have paid closer attention to the Christian calendar in the celebration of Christmas, and found it to be somewhat liberating.
In Australia, Christmas decorations hit the shops in late September (Easter eggs and hot cross buns have already appeared in supermarkets!). By the time Christmas has arrived, it has already been swallowed and destroyed by the commercialism, not to mention the inane repetition of carols in the stores and lifts.
Although I have yet to convince the family to abandon its tradition of putting up the decorations in the first week of December ;-), by counting the twelve days of Christmas (through to Epiphany on January 6), we have seen the Christmas story much more grounded in our life experience. Instead of ending the story at the cradle, we followed through to the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, building profound connections with contemporary events: the deportation of asylum seekers from Australia, and of course, the Boxing Day tsunami.
As we have reflected on the Incarnation in these contexts, we have discovered a deeper meaning of the birth of Christ: the entry of God into the suffering of the world. Our lights, nativity (which took its own flight to Egypt on a windy day, but that's another story), and images have helped us enter into the Christmas spirit in a fresh way. We have enjoyed Christmas, well beyond the day itself.
Our 8-year-old daughter R, reflected today in discussions about her "discovery" about Santa Claus, that the Christmas spirit - giving - ought not be confined to a single day, if we are truly to see Jesus present in the world.
Out of the mouths of children...
Our neighbour is still awaiting news of a close friend missing in the regions affected by the Tsunami. Up the street I discover that one of the workers in a shop there is also missing.
As we prepare for our effort in response to the needs of Southern Asia, we are reminded that it is not remote from any of us.
It's a public holiday in Melbourne, and I am immersed in paper. Before one can start the new year, the flotsam and jetsam of the old year need to be sorted, filed and/or cleared out. It gives me some sense of control to leave my office for at least one day with the appearance of being in control.
And then there is the challenge of finding the right term to file things under so that I can find them when I need them....
Preparing worship in the context of this devastating tsunami, with its impact on so many, means one cannot avoid looking at the images, and reflecting on the stories. A child floating for two days on a door... a dog waiting (in vain) beside its owner's bags - somewhat reminiscent of the Dog on the Tuckerbox... families elated to find those who were thought drowned, and those who were devastated to be confirmed in their worst fears.
There are so many unanswerable questions. How does one worship in such a context?
Psalm 88 is the blackest of all psalms - the only one which does not end with an affirmation of praise. Instead it ends with the words "the darkness is my closest friend".
It is a reminder to us that worship is an act of faith, in which we ought to acknowledge the realities of the moment, and our own understanding of God in the midst.
It is fitting that we celebrate communion, and are reminded of the brokenness by which God has reached out to rescue us.
Having last week reflected on the Slaughter of the Innocents, it seems that our worship themes have sadly come together.
Happy New Year!
NEW YEAR’S THOUGHTS
from George Browning, Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn
"...If we believe that God has come then of necessity we will believe that God will come (forever comes!). This belief should radically change the way we live our lives. We will not say 'it does not matter', for, because Christ comes, everything matters.
* Because Christ comes, we will not leave until tomorrow that which we should do today.
* Because Christ comes, we will be careful over what we do, preparation is worthwhile.
* Because Christ comes, we will leave space for surprises, we will allow our lives to be filled with awe and wonder.
* Because Christ comes, we will believe in a future for the young, that they might believe in one too.
* Because Christ comes, we will look at each other with anticipation and respect, for fear that he may come disguised as our own familiar friend.
"Living with hope is arguably the greatest gift that the Christian community can bring to the world. We all know that hopelessness is the great 'dis-ease' of our time. As we prepare ..., may it be our personal resolve to live a life of hope..."