Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Self-love, and "scratching your own itches"...


"Love your neighbour AS YOURSELF" says the Scripture.

Well, bad luck Neighbour, because I'm fighting scratching raging to get my own needs met!!!

The social justice call for love, care and concern for the other - and to stop "othering" them is right!!! Great ambition and right thinking here.

Yet, where is a person to start, for if most people treated their neighbours as they treated/Love themselves, there would be LESS quoting of this verse.

See, this verse doesn't just 'appear' in a vacuum, on a list of good suggestions from a cool dude named Jesus...

It's from a context of community, and from a place of possibility in and only through  surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, Son of God and Saviour. 

When you and I have to keep ensuring that certain parts of our lives - emotional, sexual, relational, identity - are "looked after" by ourselves, then that is self-focussed. 
How then can we be loving to the others - just scraping off a bit of our spare energy and emotion after we are sorted?

Isn't this what social justice concern has been RIGHTLY critiquing in a church where Jesus is not Lord, and not allowed to be everything, resulting in scrathy grabby Christians who have ignored the poor and allowed systemic injustice to go in?

The big picture is that my self and my personal issues are connected to the wider whole... 
An example:  I feel threatened by being fat/divirced/single/whatever so I take care of myself and buy myself a holiday, a massage, new clothes and shoes. These things are not wrong - but what is my inner motivation?

I want to FEEL good - something, anything - for a moment, a minute, an hour, and this is fine --- if one believes that "the moment is all we've got".

Yet, if we are made for something more, and if true love of self is not just a minute of pleasure, status, or happiness, but a progression to BEING known and loved and accepted, then surely True Love of the other - neighbour/refugee/spouse - will not come from grabbing moments for myself.

It is being known, embraced, and secure as a child of God - through Jesus - that "enough" is present for me and OVERFLOWS for my neighbour.
Then, I can live out The Golden Rule.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Describe the air you are breathing, and tell others...


Reflection after reading: Acts 10

As Christians, when we start to describe God - the indescribable - we are at risk of 
– nothing, actually!  

For as we need air and are often totally unconscious of it entering and leaving our lungs, we grapple to try and describe the amazing and the mundane of breathing.

When we turn and think of GOD --- GOD just is, and who God is will not be changed by our frail attempts at understanding (theologising) or describing.

From the Bible, from creeds and confessions, though ultimately in the Incarnation – when God came down to be with us in the Person of Jesus Christ – we can see and understand some things, and therefore take heart about a few things that God is not:

-             God is not a ‘bulldozer’ set on destruction but One who wants human flourishing and wholeness;
-             God is not malicious or vicious, just waiting to watch us trip up, but One who lifts us out of the  
         darkness of sin and trouble;
-            God is not without a plan or purpose, and is working towards a good end, desiring that no-one 
        should perish but all come to eternal life through Jesus Christ --- The Way, The Truth, The Life.

An apophatic approach regarding what God is “not”, may lead down many interesting paths of meandering.  But we are not without direction.  God's word clearly shows us so much about who God is, and how God’s work in the world with humans is so amazing and transforming and challenging. 

So, let us for a minute look at one major aspect of God:
  God is a missionary God – a God of calling, moving, disruption, danger and daring…. God enters ‘human space’ [for all space is God’s, really!] and this has effects.

The missionary God is DISRUPTIVE
§                         Abraham, get up and go!  Genesis 12:1…
§                        Peter, get up and go! Acts 10; and --- many others throughout the Bible.

The missionary God is DANGEROUS
§                     Old Testament prophets, “you [Israel] stoned, put to death” many – Jesus; Hebrews 11...
§                     Jesus, they wanted to put him to death…and we too must take up our cross and die daily.

The missionary God is DARING
§                   God ‘took a chance’ on humanity - his creation – to send Jesus and to call followers who would  
              give their all.  The disciples in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, were transformed.
§                    Stephen dared to speak and act, by the power of God the Holy Spirit
§                    Paul's speeches and actions were enabled by the power of God the Holy Spirit

When we put our trust in Jesus Christ and commit to live for God alone, we are setting out on an adventure with the One who wants to disrupt our lives in good ways, for us to have life to the full.  

When we look at the New Testament, we see that following Jesus is not without cost or danger --- it is just as Jesus said it would be.  The last thing Jesus commanded was, in our going, to tell and teach everyone all that he had said, and to baptise these who would also become his disciples (followers).

There are so many waiting to hear this message:  do we dare to live it like it’s true, and to share in whenever and wherever possible?

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Narrow and few?! Says WHO ??!?!?!??!?!?!

Jesus, actually...

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2019/05/10/why-is-the-gate-so-narrow-and-so-few-find-it/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Evangelical&utm_content=46 

What hope for wounded creatures? Preliminary thoughts...


What hope for wounded creatures?

There are explicit and traumatising accounts of human abuse, torture and terror reigned upon the non-human creation coming at us through the media. It is right to be disgusted, and right that we do all in our power to stop deliberate and sustained attacks on everything – from rivers and landscapes being filled full of filth, to flies whose wings are pulled off by children, and to dogs or donkeys whose skins are pulled off while they are still alive. 

Records of humanity’s “inhumanity to man” are as old as time, and the vile treatment of the non-human is plain.  The cries to “do something” for animals in pain come frequently to our ears, bombarding our senses, and overloading our emotions.  Are we to hate people and reject community with our fellow humans?

Here are some points that I hope will encourage further thinking on this issue, given with the understanding that this is a huge topic and I am not an expert:

Firstly, animal rights activists are correct to tell us ‘all is NOT okay with the world’, as they point out abuses heaped upon innocent creatures.  Their voices are right to shout out that evil exists, and is present in societies all over this world.  Something is very wrong with the person who would slowly torture a kitten, grasshopper, dolphin or deer, to death.

[This article is not going to address food choices.  I accept and participate in swift and ‘humane-as-possible’ dispatching of various creatures for human consumption, without waste or disrespect as Indigenous peoples can teach us (no “pleasure” hunting or fishing); and with regard to approved health and hygiene standards.]

All creation is crying out for full and final redemption, in whatever form that may ultimately take.  The Bible tells us this, as the story commences with God’s perfection which then becomes marred and pained by human wrong-doing.  This wrong affects everyone and everything, including ecosystems, invertebrates, air quality, and especially human relationships with each other, and the creation.

What to do then, with seemingly ‘competing’ values? While it is actually possible to do more than one moral thing at a time, many seem to have abandoned their fellow humans and decided that non-humans deserve attention they have lacked for some time.  I was recently given examples of this on a Facebook thread where attempts to ask questions were met with such vitriol that I cannot imagine the pain and abuse lying behind the respondents' bile.  [I say more about it at the end of this piece].

One attempt to manage competing concerns was the “values clarification” of the 1990s[1] which clearly is not helpful. Who wants to live in a world where a bus full of children is ‘sacrificed’ to save the last sloth crawling slowly across the dangerous mountain road?  

For those who may say “serve you humans right – you are in that precious and endangered sloth’s territory so you deserve to go over the cliff and die”, that raises many more questions than this article can address, including whether I would want to live next door to you.

Secondly, trying to relate to hurting creatures as equals does seem to underpin the actions of many animal rights campaigners. This may be the ideal, yet fails to recognise the otherness of the creature.[2] A dog is not a sheep, is not a shark, is not a snail, is not a turtle...so how can these creatures “connect” to each other?  It does happen occasionally, usually in circumstances that are unusual – a human’s backyard, a zoo, or other interventionist arena.  

How is it showing respect for the other when the creature is forced to interact with those not of their own kind?  What are the ethics of this kind of treatment of animals?

Many people seem to turn to animals in their own pain and woundedness and see themselves in the dark liquid pools of a dog’s (or other critter’s) eyes and “feel” a connection.[3]  There is as yet no possibility of objective data for confirming or dismissing “connection”, and data around communication with invertebrates doesn’t seem to warrant much attention.

I wonder, is what they see there a reflection of their own hurt, rejection and loss?  In what way are wounded humans able to actually help the abused creature except through reaction borne out of our own pain?

Humans are charged with greater responsibility, and so will be held to account for the uses and abuses of God’s creation.  We are responsible for responding (or not) to God’s call for healing and hope that is provided through Jesus Christ the Saviour, and as we are transformed by this good news, we will be able to bring healing to creation.

Humans hurt by other humans are still hurting.  Avoiding fellows and mistrusting all is not a long-term solution.  And, those who “turn to” animals for comfort are still on the outside “looking in”, for a person is not a sheep, nor a lizard, nor a dog.  

By insisting on anthropomorphism are not humans just bringing creatures to the level of humanity?  And how is that helpful to the creatures that we – collectively – have a degree of ‘power over’ that we may both assist them, and affirm them, in their difference to us?

Thirdly, creation IS glorious, wonderful, and praises its Creator.  All through the Bible, there are metaphors which speak of the mountains, hills, rocks and streams praising God, who knows the flowers and grasses of the fields, and even tiny sparrows as they fall.  Sparrows will fall, as will humans, for we are all going to die one day.  We are not to speed-up that death by pollution, cruelty, or mismanagement of resources. Yet, there remains a distinction:  there is the human, and there is the non-human.[4]

Many times, it seems that in reaction to having previously forsaken animal care, and as a reaction to examples of horrendous treatment, finite resources are gathered for appeals to provide new beaks for ducks, wheel-chairs for foxes, and hysterectomies for old hens. This is completely immoral in my opinion.

What must be done firstly, is to be honest about the wealth and privilege of pet and animal owners in western countries, while developing countries count it a privilege to have a goat, a fish or a chicken to kill for dinner. 

I wonder what is the monetary, annual cost of giving pets hip replacements, chemotherapy, and medications for epilepsy, arthritis or diabetes?

What about the equitable sharing of resources – private and communal - to provide for hungry children, for infant and maternal health, for adequately-trained carers for those with disabilities as needed, for a resolution of teen homelessness and the prevention of elder abuse on our doorstep, just beside our shops and schools? 

Human lives must take priority.  I place humanity somewhere quite differently than on the same level as a goat, snail, donkey or shark, and I believe that the Bible also does this.

The world is in a mess, and yet there is healing in and through the Person of Jesus, who came down to this earth as a human, in order to save humans. 

We are certainly going to be held to account to whether or not we have loved our neighbour as ourselves, for the parable of Jesus which illustrated that was humane treatment of another human being, and not of the donkey that the Good Samaritan set the injured man upon.[5]

By not speaking of the donkey, Jesus did not in any way condone animal mistreatment, for he certainly allowed for breaking the Sabbath to provide the basic needs of all.[6]  Homo sapiens are you and me and our family and friends and neighbours and enemies – all made in the image of the Creator who longs for human community, and who are distinct from animals, plants, rocks and stars and planets.

So much more may be said, and from many different perspectives.
  
What I know is that I refuse to accept a charge that I hate animals because I chose to eat them, under certain conditions as alluded to previously. I also chose not to despise my own species; despite the evils they continue to perpetrate.

I am a human being who has felt very strongly in the past that the only ones who understood me were non-human ‘furries and featheries’.  There was so much pain inside me that I could not bear it, as I rejected humans for their foul deeds and looked to the non-human for company.  

My testimony that I am finding healing and hope ONLY in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I had to surrender my pain, my hurt, my abuse, and instead receive a new heart – one that remains soft towards animals and in right relationship to them as non-human creatures – that can love all people.  Jesus alone offers hope for wounded creatures of all sorts, now and ultimately.

It is a choice to be healed and to walk a healing journey.  It is very difficult to give up feelings that have long been close and comfortable, to say “yes” to trusting Jesus. 

Jesus is FOR you, and for all creatures.  Jesus came to this earth as a real human being, and was abused, betrayed and suffered at the hands of humans.

Will you let him take the crushed and bleeding part of you that identifies with the abused of any description, and make you whole?


[1] Many may remember those exercises involving – for example – a number of people in the boat with fewer life jackets than folks, and having to decide who gets one, and why.  I believe that these were used to determine from rationalist thinking where the value of a human life comes from, through their ability to contribute to the ecosystem, and not from any innate dignity of being.  This is a challenge to the “imageo dei” concept, which is itself is now under review.
[2] The ideation of animals as “pure” and “wild”, with humans their antithesis, is beyond the scope of this paper. Any cursory glance at search-engine results indicates that “animal soul”, “animal purity”, along with the idea that “animals make us better humans” are current in popular culture; some current philosophical and theological debates are exploring these ideas further.
[3] There is as yet no possibility of objective data for confirming or dismissing “connection”, and data around communication with invertebrates doesn’t seem to warrant much attention.  Science - as concerned with the physical and provable - should not venture into issues of “soul” and “connection” if it wishes to remain credible in its material inquiry (empiricism). This is different to the concept of “consciousness”, which is accepted:  https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528836-200-animals-are-conscious-and-should-be-treated-as-such/
[5] For further study:  What if the non-human creation is already “saved”?  What if is already God’s own possession, as he made it all, and it praises him continually?  What if the creatures are watching us to see how we treat each other – even the least ‘worthy’: the criminal, the drug-addict or the “illegal” refugee – to see how much we care for our fellows?  What if the non-humans go directly “to God” upon their deaths, while humans must choose to follow the Saviour and repent of sin and reject the evil that continues to entrap and blind?
[6] Don’t you lead your ox or donkey to water on the Sabbath? Luke 13:15, and 14:5; see also Matthew 12:11 about assisting sheep, or any animal, as needed.  Jesus “broke the Sabbath” to care for others, and saw it as acceptable for meeting the physical needs of all creatures, Mark 2:23-28.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Lashed to the mast....and slavery

Being "lashed to the mast" of a ship is an image that is probably not well-known anymore, for learning Greek legends has fallen by the wayside... like manners, and commitment, and hard work.

Sounding like an old person, I have to say that what is important lasts a long time, and what is just convenient, trendy, popular, etc, often just fades away into nothingness.

Back to Greek mythology and the story of Jason and the Argonauts:  a young man named Jason heads out to adventure and at great risk to himself and his ship full of men (probably all males!), and determinedly wants to hear the famed Sirens singing as he sails past.  Yet, this 'siren song' is known to have been the cause of many shipwreck, and so Jason has a plan --- he will allow himself to be tied to the ship's mast in order to have restraint yet able to listen to the song, while the rest of the crew have their ears stopped with beeswax and can continue their focus and not be distracted from the task of sailing past the treacherous rocks.

Now, every metaphor or analogy has its limits, yet let's look at a few things like commitment, determination, and clear purpose:

Some time ago, I took the risk and flung myself on a hope --- that the promises of God through Jesus Christ the Son of God and only Saviour of the world --- are REAL, TRUE and POSSIBLE.

Which promises, I hear you ask, for there are many who say that Jesus promises us "health and wealth"?

I am thinking of the promises of God being with me through both sweet times and dark times (Psalm 23), and Jesus' promise to never leave us. For God in human flesh - Jesus - returned to heaven, and God the Holy Spirit came to earth.

I certainly reject both the extremes of caricatured Christianity --- it is not "pie in the sky when you die", nor is it "steak on a plate while you wait"!

I'm referring to the power and presence of Jesus in my life who works in, with and through me to take away my guilt (I'm a sinner!), to ease the pain of consequences of the troubles of life which I have both suffered as an innocent and been responsible for in other things (He is merciful and gracious), and to actually GIVE ME joy and peace and love as He helps transform me.

What did I have to "do" to get there?  What's the secret?

No secret, no sales pitch, no quick-fix solution:  this is an ongoing process of being honest, admitting sin and selfishness, and of continually surrendering to Jesus in big and small ways.

I let myself be tethered to the mast who is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Unlike Jason, that was not so I would hear an unknown song, but it is so that I stand firm as the beckoning crowd and the cultural song of my culture continues to deride and decry the Gospel as it views my strange choice.

For if talking about Greek myths and their application to 21st century people is not weird enough, I have repented of my sins and I am living out what it says in the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians chapter 6, and 1 Peter, chapter 4.  I was there, and I did that.  And I don't any more.

Now, I am holding on to Jesus, and I am being held - I chose to let myself be tied to him.
I am bound to and sold out for Jesus... like a slave.

Paul - and the writer of 1 Peter - used this most offensive and shocking language: "slave of Christ Jesus", to show the absolute counter-cultural and extreme way of life that it was to become a Christian and to remain committed to Jesus.

Many may ask, how dare we privileged white people - such as I am - use such a laden vision in this post-colonial era?   To speak of slaves is to speak of horror and of screams of children ripped from the arms and bellies of their parents, and to speak of black bodies ploughed with whips, as they - human beings - were treated less than human, and were used to plough fields for profit.

I don't know an answer to this awful truth.  Slavery is wrong: it is a sin. And we are responsible for sin --- our own and the sins of others, or the effects as we see in systemic oppression and racism.

The slavery of the time of Jesus, and of Paul, was horrific. What is true is that it is offensive then, for Christianity was scoffed at for being a "religion of women, and of slaves".

Interestingly, Jesus said that he came to bring release to prisoners - to slaves - in Luke 4.
Is this literal?  Spiritual?  Delusional?

What I do know as I commit myself EVERY DAY to following Jesus is that I have been a slave to many blatant sins.  I am probably one to things that I don't even recognise.

But I pray that this changes.  And I work with Jesus to get that going as the Bible teaches me and guides me and shows me how to live.

So that I am becoming more and more like Jesus, who did not think it a terrible thing to come down to humanity's level and serve people just like a slave in Roman times used to do.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Fixing His Eyes: What Paul Saw

I am very excited that Jen Barker, founder and moderator of the Australian blog 'Fixing Her Eyes', has published a piece I did recently:

http://www.fixinghereyes.org/single-post/2019/04/25/Fixing-His-Eyes-What-Paul-Saw

Great leadership is like dew falling...

"Like dew falling on Mount Hermon" is a classic quote which many may have heard.
It comes from the Psalms, which are full of nature - trees, streams, mountains, and still waters.
God has set all things in motion, the cycles of rain, growth, falling leaves, and new saplings pushing through the undergrowth of the shady wood, continues under His care.

It is true that humans have intervened and interrupted nature yet all is not lost.
"Like dew falling on Mount Hermon" is a picture of refreshment when brother and sisters live and work together in harmony (Psalm 133), and this is good for the souls of us all.

Does this mean that there are no 'roles', no leaders, no-one guiding anymore? 
Not at all, for there are structures and layers of leaders, team players, higher managers and entry-level workers.  Yet, harmony means respect, care, concern and a diligence flowing from the leadership to assist workers of all kinds and of all levels be the best they can be.

What got me thinking about all this was the ABC radio program "Life Matter", where Ashley Goodall, co-author of 'Nine Lies About Work', is grappling with the issue of life-work balance.  It is definitely worth a listen: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/nine-lies-about-work/11037910

Many of us - myself especially recently - have observed that leadership is what "makes or breaks" a workplace, organisation, and even church.  Goodall says that "the job of a leader is to cascade purpose throughout the organisation" - every week, every day, and in every way.

This is a picture of refreshment:  for people to come to know that they are intentionally doing something worthwhile - from washing up and cleaning, to financial concerns, or saving lives - is vital.  Leadership that is clear on where it is going, WILL get somewhere!  And that 'somewhere' is the goal of the group, company or association.

For Christians, the goal of church is to glorify Jesus Christ and be attractive so that others want Him too.  What could be more inviting than leaders who refresh people, and who 'cascade' the purposes of our loving, guiding and pursuing God upon those they care for?

I am challenged to be that sort of person - that sort of leader - in any small way that I can.
What about you?