Sitting Job Part 8

Tension precedes a storm. I imagine that at the closing of the final mortal speech there would have been a moment where Job, the friends and any other observers may have held their collective breath in anticipation. Would God answer Job's challenge? Would Job perish for making his stand? Or for the ultimate anti-climax, would Job simply follow the course of his disease, and slowly fade away?

The storm comes. No longer an observer or behind the scenes protagonist, God speaks twice in a thunderous theophany. He addresses Job, not with answers but with bewildering questions. God takes Job on a whirlwind cosmological tour of His creation. Job is shown the creatures and features of both his known and unknown world, but through a divine lens. He glimpses an expansive multiverse that is beautiful, diverse, and incomprehensible. And God is delighted by it. Through sampling God's masterpieces, Job sees that he has spoken without knowledge and answers God with a changed heart. Job is reassured that God's omniscience and omnipotence is sufficient for all of creation, including Job's own predicament. Job is put in his place, but it is one of dignity and communion with his creator.

Whenever I talk about God, like Job, I talk about things that I do not understand. May the created world be my teacher.

God, my very existence is evidence of Your grace. Help me to accept both my creaturely status and my worthiness in You.

Green with envy

Australia has had a bit of bad press lately. We have been under the microscope for a variety of reasons, including our involvement in Iraq, our treatment of detainees, and racial tensions. An article in today's Age calls Australia a nation of waste. Not a title to invoke national pride. New Zealand is officially the most environmentally sound country in the world. And Australia? We are not even in the top ten. Here's a list of the top ten environmentally responsible countries:

1. New Zealand

2. Sweden

3. Finland

4. Czech Republic

5. Britain

6. Austria

7. Denmark

8. Canada

9. Malaysia

10. Ireland

Out of 133 countries, we are ranked 20th, eight places higher than America. We are ranked very poorly on water waste (119th), and and 94th for air quality, courtesy of our love of cars. The bottom positions are occupied by the poorest of countries who do not have the resources to implement environmentally sound principles. Maybe it is time for the traditional rivalry between Australia and New Zealand to be directed towards something that matters – looking after our environment.

Sitting with Job Part 7

The debate continues, stagnant. The friends are immovable. They have but one way of understanding themselves, God and justice. Job's suffering is retribution from an all powerful but distant God. For Job, it is not so simple. He knows that the wicked may flourish, and that the righteous may suffer. The latter story is played out in his own skin. The God of Job is terrifyingly imminent, mighty yet intimate. Job is confident that God who is just will declare him righteous, and judge him accordingly. The friends must marvel at Job's audacious demand for an audience with God, a legal contest. Who could possibly risk such provocation? Only the youngest contributer to the debate dares to call Job arrogant for such a position, and subsequently proffers closing 'evidence' of Job's sin.

Even in the privileged place of living this side of the cross, it is not always easy to come before God with the assurance of Job. As an observer I would have been torn between great compassion and amazement at his gumption. Job's declarations demonstrate dangerous honesty.

God, help me not to hide behind piety, but to grow in relationship with You with honesty and sincerity.

Social Pornography

As I indicated in my last post, this is a risky title, and I am scared of what adsense will do with it! I heard this phrase at a workshop by Deb Hirsch on sexuality. Deb Hirsch is involved with Forge, and has pastored a church with significant emphasis on the sexually broken. You can read her profile here. Deb quoted CS Lewis who stated that our sexuality mirrors our spirituality. Now there's a challenge.

The workshop explored three different elements of sexuality – gender, social and genital (I think I need to take adsense out of my CSS sheet…aagh!)… Anyway, Deb went on to illustrate how men are more likely to express their sexuality in the third area, and women are more into social aspects of sexuality – connectedness, relationships, intimacy… etc. I personally believe that all aspects of sexuality mentioned by Deb are important in both male and female sexuality, but perhaps the emphases vary. Men traditionally get a lot of bad press because of their vulnerability to inappropriate expressions of "genital sexuality", and because women may not struggle in the same way, we can be left considering ourselves more virtuous. Deb proposed that men are drawn to "private parts", but women are drawn to "private lives". Women fantasise about the lives of the rich and famous, their relationships, fidelity, their body sizes and attributes, their fashion, scandal, gossip." Who Magazine, Women's Weekly, Cleo, Cosmo, all devoured with an insatiable voyeristic appetite for intimate knowledge about the lives of others. Deb coins this obsession as "social pornography", and suggested that like it's more familiar counterpart, it is sinful.

Here is where I breathe a big sigh of relief. At least one area of sin that I don't have to struggle with. I cannot tell you the name of Tom Cruise' new love (does he have one?). I don't know what Brad is up to (and I don't care). I didn't even know that Lleyton Hewitt's wife was pregnant until I went to a fancy dress party and my brother-in-law and his wife had to explain their outfits to me. I hate the magazines. I like reading tech magazines (a bit of a nerdy secret actually), Delicious (because I like good food), and Wild (because I love hiking). No glam girls or boys to be found.

Week of Soul

I have just had a week (almost) at Belgrave Heights Convention Centre for the annual Soul Survivor festival. Soul Survivor is targeted at young people, and is a great time of pressing in to God, pondering things of a spiritual nature, awesome worship, and of course no sleep and great merriment. I reckon I paced several kilometres per day around the sprawling campsite, and danced,clapped and sung more in a few days than I probably will for the rest of the year.

The entertainment highlights included dancing to Rivertribe, and watching incredible testosterone driven stunts involving skate boards and bikes. I watched one utterly brave young man catch some serious air as he leapt over eight metres on a bike with no front brakes. This young man stopped himself by throwing himself off his bike. I kept imagining blood everywhere. I believe he did sprain his wrist, but thankfully nothing more dramatic. The prize for the competition? A chikki fold and a lammy bab. Sounds a bit like Esau, only it required physical rather than moral compromise. The commentary was far more exciting than 774 cricket coverage. And I felt like I was in a time warp – tight jeans with tiny ankles and knee-cap bottoms were everywhere to be seen amongst the competitors, with the obligatory display of 15 centimetres or so of undies. Apart from the last feature, it was like being surrounded by the boys of my youth.

I expect to post a few thoughts over the coming days, especially around the workshop topics. This will include the notion of social pornography (I hesitate to use the word for the potential spam!), the role of repentance in forgiveness, and money. Stay tuned.

Sitting with Job Part 6

In dust and ashes Job sits, bereft. Job is stripped of dignity and all that matters to him. The God whose care preserves him seems far away; the God who terrifies is unbearably close. Job's friends are as nurturing as his own bony flesh. Yearning for justice, Job is desolate but not defeated. In a pinnacle statement of faith and hope, Job boldly declares that his Redeemer lives, and that he will see God. Oblivious to the heavenly drama, Job speaks truly. The Redeemer watches his servant Job, and waits. Perhaps He also weeps.

I don't generally struggle with blaming God for bad things that happen. Perhaps this is because unlike Job, I find it hard to attribute responsibility for them to God. I know God uses difficult experiences to teach and mould me. But does He permit, or or does He bring about trials? Again unlike Job, I struggle to integrate God who devastates me with God who redeems me. I know that God's sovereignty is limitless. My understanding is not.

Almighty God, I don't know where to begin with comprehending Your terror and tenderness, Your mercy and judgment. You reveal Yourself to me, and yet you are hidden. I can only trust.

The case of the missing Beatles box


The Beatles had enjoyed superstardom long before I had any inkling of their existance. I have vague memories of playing "We all live in a yellow submarine" on my recorder at school, but that sums up my early Beatle recollections.

Lennon was assassinated on the 8th of December 1980, but I can't recall it happening. I was ten years old. However, I do remember the day Elvis Presley died, 16th August 1977. I have some vague memory of my mother working outside. She heard the news and became very upset.

My dad has always loved music and managed to maintain a fair working of knowledge of contemporary music over the years. Like many of his generation, he was a fan of the Beatles, and was rumoured to look like one of them (George Harrison) in his youth. My dad used to run a competition where if my mother, my siblings or I could guess the name and artist for a song, we would be able to earn money. Needless to say, I became an expert on music from the sixties and seventies, including the Beatles.

The Beatles occupied a back seat for most of my adolescence, giving way to all the musical delights of the synthesised '80s. All that changed when I got my first car, a bright yellow Corolla. Or rather, it changed when I got my first stereo. Starved of music to play, I borrowed my dad's Beatles Box – an eight cassette compilation of many songs. This was when I fell in love with them. The Beatles were all that I listened to on the long drives to university. Not the "I want to hold your hand" stuff. It was the weird and wonderful tracks that hooked me.
"She's leaving home" … "The fool on the hill", "I am the walrus" (what was that about?)… "Happiness is a warm gun"…"I'm so tired"… Carry that weight"… "Golden Slumbers"…"Got to get you into my life"…"I'm looking through you"… "In my life"…

So many songs. I will not bore you with listing any more! Now, as a wannabe guitarist, it gives me great pleasure to attempt to play the songs. And that is the root of my appreciation for their brilliance. Simple and complex chords, beautiful melodies that seem just as impressive today as when they were written. This defined the sound of the Beatles. There have been many bands since that have emulated them accidentally or unintentionally, and many of them seem to come from the UK. Notable examples include Oasis (especially the "What's the story morning glory" album, Blur, and even a track of the new Franz Ferdinand album (check out "Eleanor put your boots back on").

I guess I am still a fan, although I don't own many albums. Nor do I own the Beatles box collection any more. Over the years my dad has wondered where the cassettes are. I haven't been brave enough to tell him that I wore them all out! If they bring out a CD edition, it could be a very good Christmas present option for him next year…

Sitting with Job part 5

Who will hear Job's cry? No-one, according to his friends. Job's voice drops to a broken whisper in the face of the shadow of death. His body is wracked with weeping. Job's tears rise to heaven, to God who has formed him with bare hands, yet broken him with the same.

You give and take away. Blessed be Your name.

May these unwavering words of Job be on my lips at all times. May I shout them joyfully over the crashing of waves. May I whisper and cling to them in the storm. For my life is not for my own edification, but in every mountain and valley to bear witness to the glory of God.

Narnia

This afternoon I went to see Narnia. It was probably not as good as I had anticipated, as far as big block-buster special effects movies go. The lion was not always believable, and it didn't feel other-worldly enough for the vividly imagined Narnia of my childhood. The children acted fairly well, certainly more appealing than the bumbling Ron etc of Harry Potter. I liked Lucy. She seemed to capture a child-like rapture and faith. It's a good story, and I am sure that most people will enjoy it, but i am not sure that it will be the big conversion flick as promoted in some Christian circles. The parallelism is blindingly obvious as a Christian. However, if I did not know the Christian narrative, I am not so sure that I would come out wondering about Jesus (factoring out the possibility of a sovereign act of God).

Having said that, the film impacted me more on a spiritual level than possibly anything else I have seen in a good while. Edmund is deliciously naughty, and one feels torn between compassion for him and despising his flaws that enable him to betray his family for "a few sweeties" as the wily queen of ice points out. The audience obviously does not want him to perish for his crimes, as it seems as though he suffered enough. Yet the price had to be paid for the sake of the magic of the land. Easy to accept in a fantasy world. A hard truth to grapple with in our earthy existence. Why not forgive and forget? The incredible sacrifice of Aslan the lion is moving, and seems hugely unfair. Beautifully told, Clive Staples Lewis. In these scenes he captures the incredible act of Jesus with great simplicity and power, in a way that makes sense and breaks the heart. The quality of the film rendition scarcely matters here. The point is made, deeply. My connection with the salvation story throughout this film was deeper than I can express in words.

Another part that spoke to me was earlier in the film, when Peter is beset by a taunting wolf. Aslan saves him from the others that would otherwise have overpowered Peter, and one of Aslan's army offers to do away with the remaining wolf. Aslan stops him, saying that Peter was to fight this one himself. We are not just passive recipients of God's protection, provision. We need to stand! God will not let us be overcome, but we can have victory over the things that come our way, knowing that God is there with us in the midst of the battle. It was a defining moment for Peter – his first kill, and the seed of his courage was born. The Christian life is not an easy one, it is not simply a lovely little walk in the park. It is rough, dangerous, exciting, and one that requires courage. Courage that is founded in God, but exercised by us.

Sitting with Job part 4

Job's friends were speechless with distress when they first saw him; now it is as though they are deafened. Words like a hot desert wind blow over Job, depleting him. Job thirsts for mercy, understanding, but finds none. The friends speak nothing of Job's own suffering, but of the good life of the righteous to a man for whom life is unbearable. They speak of the despair of the sinner to a man who seeks purity and clings to righteousness. Their solution is simple – Job's punishment will cease if he repents from sin. Comfortless words to a man wretched in body and spirit.

At work it is my role to be solution-focused, to identify cause and effect, and seek opportunities for change. Sometimes the way forward is unclear. Pat answers fail to suffice, and reduce opportunity for genuine empathy.

God, as I minister to those you bring across my path, help me to not rush in with empty words and quick fixes. Help me to be wise, and to bring Your comfort to those in need.