“Replacement church unlikely to equal original”

I found a link to this article as part of my regular ABC religious program newsletter.

“It could be some time before the Catholic community at Adaminaby gets a new church.

St Mary’s church was burnt down earlier this month and members of the parish are still taking stock of what they can do about replacing their place of worship.

Church spokeswoman Lou Mackay says there will be an insurance payout, but it will not be enough to rebuild on the same scale as the old church.

“We’d have to think very carefully about what we’ll put up because the old church was such an historic structure and to build something to replicate something quite like that is probably out of the question I would imagine.”

If only this acknowledgment aboout the pointlessness of trying to recreate a historic church (building) could be extended to how we go about building church (as people) now. The people of this Catholic community are on to something – they realise that they can’t replicate the historic structure that had been their church before it burnt down. They need a fresh imagining. So do we.

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Apathy

A while ago I posted on the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, reflecting somewhat bitterly on global apathy (including my own) in the face of incredible injustice and inhumanity.  And I have nearly been guilty of it again.  The current goings on between Israel and Lebanon are horrendous, and if it wasn’t for Geoff’s post, I may have had no more than a passing thought about it, with a brief ponder about what if anything, the events mean in the light of eschatology.  How subtly I can become emotionally calloused.  Check out this footage from the Sydney Morning Herald to see and hear the suffering behind the headlines.  Yet again I must seek God for Him to break my heart with the things that break His.  This is the only lasting innoculation against my apathy.  It is a subtle thing, apathy.  It is like amputating our hands, feet and heart, for under its influence we choose to do and feel nothing.

“In ten years time, some of them will no longer be Christians…”

I receive email updates from the ABC that provides an overview of all kinds of spirituality related articles and shows. This quote came from radio program Perspective, commenting on the rise of pentecostalism, as evidenced in churches such as Sydney’s “Hillsong” and Adelaide’s “Paradise Church”. The brief article refers to the courting of the megachurches for their voting power, and the quote seems to imply that winning votes of young converts will be short-lived as they eventually come to reject their faith. A negative picture. Yet probably fair. Large churches do have a big front door. And an equally large back door. The mainstream church struggles as it fights to preserve tradition in a culture where grey is the new “black” and “white”. Australia is not currently showing the fruits of revival, if anything, the “church” has never looked so inconsequential in all of history. Yet there are bands of us out there, scattered amongst the tradtional churches, the emerging churches, the megachurches, the unchurched, who continue to burn inside with a desire to follow Jesus wherever that leads. Revival? Maybe not. But I do think there is an increased searching for deeper, authentic, costly spirituality, with hands and feet. Something far more powerful than politics. Sorry Howard.

Holiness…

Thoughts from Forge (John Franke) no 2…check out Tim’s blog for some detailed notes on this session. When I think of God, a significant divine attribute that comes to mind is holiness. Last week John Franke added a new dimension to my thoughts about holiness . I have always thought of the word “holiness” in relation to humanity as being set apart for God, and a way of conveying sinlessness or purity when used in reference to God. John asked the question – “How is holiness reflected if there is only God?” – what did it look like before creation? This is is a question that I have never thought to ask. Franke suggests that holiness is a relational concept – a category of difference. I guess he means that for something to be defined as holy, that which is not holy must also exist, as a comparison point. He said that holiness is therefore in relationship to created order. One may reasonably query why this is even worth pondering. The holiness of God is immeasurably difficult to comprehend, and our contrasting lack of holiness in human terms can easily lead to a concept of God where he is inaccessible. Now on one level God is inaccessible – He is like nothing we could ever know. We use images and metaphors to help us grasp at the edges of Him, but that is all they do. Yet God desires a relationship with us, and made himself incredibly accessible in a bodily and spiritual sense through Jesus. Franke suggests that while God is holy (and therefore set apart from the created order), this attribute is not as central as love. Franke sees “love” as a reality in the divine life – a dynamic interplay between giving, receiving, and sharing love (as I described in an earlier post). I guess an interesting question to consider is whether it was love or holiness that necessitated the incarnation of God through Jesus. Our fallen state (or lack of holiness) meant that for God to restore us something drastic had to happen. However, he could just as easily have pressed some kind of cosmic reset button and started again, thus satisfying His holiness. But God’s love for creation, and desire to draw us into His divine love formed the impetus to come up with another way. And what could be more appropriate than for our relational God to choose a relational path for drawing us in?

I think this has ramifications for how we think about mission. Traditional approaches often feature a good measure of fire and brimstone against a dirty backdrop of sin. This makes sense from a holiness perspective – for indeed our sin does get in the way. And, God is holy. But if love was the driving force for the nails in the cross, then surely love, as the central dynamic in God himself, should be our starting point in relating to those around us who have not entered into a relationship with Jesus. If as Franke pointed out, holiness is relational, we only become aware of our lack of holiness (or sin) as we are drawn into relationship with God. Hmm… to much to think about at this time of night.

Whatever did God get up to before Creation?

I must confess that I have not really pondered this terribly much before the recent Forge intensive. This question was neatly posed by John Franke,an American theologian. The answer (and how significant it is or isn’t) is wrapped up in your concept of God. A basic understanding (albeit source of incredible mystery) of God is that he is triune. As in, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is enough in the bible for us to safely assume that God is both triune, and always has been – even before we enter the story of the universe through creation. Miraculously, ‘the beloved disciple’ John seemed to have figured this out (see John 1). Ok, so what did the Triune God pass the time, however long that was, before deciding to create life as we know it? We can assume some kind of interplay between each person within the Godhead. John Franke put it this way – life within the trinity is characterised by the “giving, receiving and sharing of love”. The ontology of God is relational. He is social, not solitary. Sociality within God can be referred to as “perichoresis” – close fellowship, interdependence”. John went on to say that God desired to extend this relationship to that which is not God (a missional activity), thus providing the impetus for creation. Just as God is in essence social, we too are created as social beings – it was not good enough for Adam to be alone (and most of us would agree with this sentiment). Here comes the main reason I have chosen to write about this here – John suggests that this is how we image God. We reflect the image of God in our “interdependent relationality, in the giving, receiving and sharing of love”. In this way we reflect the essence of the triune God, not individually, but relationally. I had figured out that God is probably not 5″3 with brown hair like me, but aside from some vague concept of a spiritual likeness, I have generally struggled to understand what it means to be made in the image of God. This definition means that my reflecting of God’s image may not really be about me individually after all. Dominion, creativity, conscience, will – the usual list of attributes said to reflect the image of God are individual attributes. All about me. There are many Christians out there with little opportunity to express some of these things – attributes like dominion and creativity are so readily mitigated by socio-economic and other cultural determinants. But together, we can give, receive, and share love”. As we do so, we move away from an western individualist imaging of God, to a reflection of the incredible relationality within the triune God.

Doin’ it for Jesus

Just got back from day one of the Forge Intensive. This morning Darryl Gardner (YFC NZ and Anglican priest) spoke on why we do it. By “it” I mean the activities we label as our calling, our ministry, our serving, usually in the context of church or mission. Most of us would say we do it for Jesus, because of our love for God, because of what he has cauled us to do. However, he said that usually this is a cover for a whole lot of other reasons that we are not honest enough to admit. It is like the iceberg image – the bit you can see we call “Jesus”, and underneath the water (let’s say concealed in the work of ministry) lie the real reasons. Things like self-importance (if I didn’t do this it wouldn’t happen, they need me…), the glory (how good am I, look at me…), romance (maybe I will meet the man or woman of my dreams), the desire for power (I’ll support you in your ministry but I actually want your job…). The list goes on. And when these motives are unfulfilled, we move on. We leave the ministry, the church etc. To make things worse, we give spiritual reasons for our lack of fulfillment – “God has other plans”, “I need time to be not do”. “God has called me elsewhere”. “There’s no unity”.

Harsh. But if we are really really honest, we can probably see shades of ourselves in these things. I know I can, as much as I am loathe to admit it. I want pure motives, but don’t often achieve it. The challenge is to actually be honest about it. If we are honest, we can overcome the issues that undergird our wrong motivations, and we can accept responsibility for them. And just maybe, the iceberg can be inverted.

How big is your sin?

Here’s my second instalment from Leo Tolstoy’s “Divine and Human”. It is about two women who go to an old saint to learn from him. One woman thought of herself as a terrible sinner – she had cheated on her husband when younger. She told the old man about it, and felt that she could never be forgiven. The other woman said she couldn’t think of any particular sin to confess. She had live by the law, and not committed any serious sin. He told the first woman to find the biggest stone she could carry and bring it to him. He told the second woman to find as many small stones as she could carry. The women did as he instructed. The old man looked at their stones and told them to put them back where they had found them. The first woman with the large stone found this easy – she knew exactly where she had got it from. The second woman didn’t have a clue, so she returned to the old man with her sack of little stones. Here comes the clincher. The man says to the first woman as she remembered where the big stone came from, likewise she remembered her great sin, and bore reproach from herself and others. She was humbled and therefore could be forgiven. The second woman could not remember where she found each stone. He said to her,

“It is the same with your sins. You have sinned in small ways many times. You do not remember those sins, did not confess them and grew used to a life of sin. In addition, through condemning the sins of others, you have sinned more and more.”

Ouch. Most of the time I think of myself as a basically good person. I don’t feel weighed down by sin in my life. I have repented and sought forgiveness for sins along the way, but right now I think I would be like the second woman – nothing stands out exceptionally to me. I think I would have gathered smallish stones, not really being aware of the need to gather a boulder or two. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. Could we be inoculated against sin? This man raises a valid point – if we are used to sinning in “small” ways, we could become accustomed and blinded to them. Hmm… a bit like the pharisees whose sins were hidden and of the heart. Interestly this is a bit of a stumbling block at times to people who do not know Jesus. “Why should I be saved?” they may ask. “I am a good person”. We are pretty sensitive to the so-called big stones – infidelity, murder, theft etc, but rather numbed to the “smaller stones” – of greed, selfishness, sins of the heart. Jesus was not. He made a point with stones too.