Scars into stars.

Crystal Cathedral on edge
I did not grow up in a Christian home.  I never attended church or Sunday School, and only found my way to youth group in my later teens.  To save a very long story, my mother has always had a simple faith that was at least partly fed by TV.  In those days there was no Joyce Meyer on the screen, or Hillsong etc.  But Sundays could always be counted on for the “Hour of Power” (straight after a Catholic service that as a child struck me as mysterious and weird).  My mother loved Hour of Power, and Dr Robert Schuller.  And she supported him financially.  We had the gadgets.  Keys to positive thinking.  Books of promises.   A quick google search readily finds a string of quotes from Schuller.  I can’t believe I found one I remembered – “Turn your scars into stars“.  I am sure we had a key ring, pendant, piece of crystal or something with those words engraved on it.    Looking back, it was an apt phrase.  In a funny way, it gave us something to hang on to.  To hope for.  Schuller was certainly a peddler of hope.

I have never watched the show as an adult, and had all but forgotten that chapter of my life until I read on Scott’s blog that the Crystal Cathedral is now bankrupt.  The comments on the article from “Christianity Today” were interesting.  People seem to be blaming female leadership (Schuller’s daughter), wrong leadership decisions, the need for  Schuller Snr to move on.  As of tonight, only one comment questioning the validity of the 20th Century church phenomenon captured so well by the crystal cathedral.  Time to look outside the glass house.

It must be love…

For a long time I have been pondering what it means to love God.  Contrary to some obscure what kind of “defective personality test are you” test I took randomly on Facebook (why take such things you may well ask? At least I didn’t publish it!), I am not wooden, but nor am I given to gushing emotion.  I am not one to splash the “I love you”  words around liberally.  And so I have come to wonder about God and love.  What and how do I love him?  We often sing songs at church about loving God.  “Jesus I am so in love with you” one song-writer croons.  But are we?   For me the “in love” phrase conjours up the domain of romantic lovers, exciting and passionate for sure.  But this love, for all its fire and energy, lacks depth, commitment, the burnished resilience that only the gritty journey of life together can forge.  It passes, is readily kindled and extinguished.  I don’t love Jesus in this romantic way.  However, I am not decrying intimacy with God.

I am reading Michael Frost’s book “Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture” at the moment.  He takes an interesting meander through the old testament’s language of God and love, and while the analogy is often used of the relationship between a man and a woman, it is always unflattering.  A relentlessly tragic story of unfaithfulness, the language often sordid and emotive.  A sad story of God remaining faithful to a people who continue to betray.  (Song of Solomon is a notable exception and probably an unecessary digression for the discussion here).

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it.  Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Frost asserts that this passage “underscores the fact that for Jesus, it is impossible to love God apart from expressing that love physically and practically into the lives of our neighbours.”(p308).

Now this is something that resonates more for me, it is loving as a verb rather than some feel good sensation in my heart, stomach or whatever is the culturally acceptable seat of emotions.

Frost goes on to list nine different ways we can “love God”, beginning with a piercing quote from Rowland Croucher – “You love God just as much, and no more, than the person you love least.”  Here are the nine headings:

Love God by loving others

Love God by obeying Jesus

Love God by lingering in God’s company

Love God by speaking about the things of God

Love God by longing for the return of Christ

Love God by forsaking all other gods and idols

Love God by laying down our life

Love God by loving what he has created.

Love God by forgiving others.

I think Frost is onto something here.  There is much to unpack in nine sentences that holds a light to  the ways in which I love God, and the ways in which I fail to.

So then, of what shall we sing?

Ortho what?

While checking through my google reader I spotted a question that has stayed with me. Has the church in Australia (in particular that part of the body that would identify itself with the ’emerging church’ ) strayed too far from orthodoxy in favour of orthopraxis? I think how we answer this question is significant. My first thought is to query whether or not we need to have one or the other – are they mutually exclusive? Can we think wrongly but act rightly? Can we think rightly but act wrongly? I wonder if it is a false dichotomy. Jesus both challenged and supported the orthodoxy of his time, in both how he taught and what he did. He taught as much by what he did as by what he said. In some ways, I think his actions spoke more plainly than his words. Do ours?

Historically much energy has gone into defending doctrine. As Christians we can find ourselves busy with words defining the particulars of our faith. I think we need to continue to delve into what we believe and why, wrestle with the greys and be honest enough to admit our struggles philosophically and theologically. I also find this process rather fun. But orthodoxy is often a source of division – the foundation for attacking each other, marginalising those who think differently within and without the church. Christianity that never moves from that head space does not transform or bring life. I think our culture has had enough of that presentation of “Christianity”. If as followers of Jesus we put at least as much emphasis on what we do and how we are as we do on what we think and believe, I believe that our “Christ-ianity” will be far more alive for us and for those with whom we relate. There are fewer shades of grey when we care for the poor, when we love our neighbours, when we eat and drink together, when we stand up for those who are defenseless.

The challenge for the Australian church is not how to stand on the gay issue, it is not whether or not to play Hillsong or stand in arty candle lit huddles. Moving to a cafe, adopting seeker sensitive services or becoming technological Sunday wonders is not going to cut it either. It comes down to honestly grappling with what it means to follow Jesus. Sure, that has something to do with what we think and believe, but a whole lot more to do what flows out of us in our everyday living, our work and play, caring, loving. That is our gift of worship. That is our participation in the coming of the Kingdom.

This post is part of the synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity In Australia, see:

  • Matt Stone at Journeys In Between Christianity In Australia
  • Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary
  • Ben Thurley at Ben’sBlog
  • Rodney Olsen at rodneyolsen.net
  • Geoff Pengilly at TheHealing Project
  • Andy Porteous at NotYet Finished
  • Paul Robotham at A Christian’s Blog
  • Chris Summerfield at A Churchless Faith
  • Heather at A Deconstructed Christian
  • Geoff Matheson at Amateur Theology
  • Deborah Taggart at The Bright Side
  • Rob Hanks at Pump House
  • Grendel at Sermons from an Atheist
  • The Abbey

    Tonight I finished viewing the last installment of a series that recently aired on the ABC – “The Abbey“.  For those who missed it, it is a kind of reality tv show set in a Benedictine monastery.  It documents the personal and communal journeys of five women with diverse backgrounds, ages and personal stories as they undertake 33 days of life as Benedictine nuns.  I found it quite profound.  Most notably, the way in which each of the women encountered God through their experience.  They found the vigils hard and inflexible, constant, tiring.  But each experienced breakthroughs in their lives, release from past hurts, and greater attunement with the physical and spiritual.   As someone who wrestles with institutionalized imaginations (do those two words go together?!) of church and faith, the impact of the experience was surprising.   The nuns were not “seeker sensitive”.  They were not “cool”.  They did not use the latest technology to create amazing experiences of worship.  There was no Hillsong, Vineyard, or anything likely to have been written in the last century or so.  They did not take the women to the pub to “hang out” and discuss spirituality.  Instead they met for prayer seven times a day commencing at 4.30am, worked in the garden, earned their keep, practiced silence (even when eating).  For the nuns, the most important thing they could do was pray for the world.  To be honest, it did not look very appealing to me – at least not as a lifestyle option.  Yet these women found God.  And not shallowly.  Deep spiritual and emotional work and healing took place.   God is to be found deeply in all places.  Rituals are not dead if God is honoured through and by their practice.  And God can reveal himself profoundly in a way that brings life through what seems to be void of life and freedom.  After watching the women’s stories unfold, it seems that one of the greatest robbers of vital spirituality is clutter in our lives.  Gadgets, internet (eek on both accounts 🙂 ), addiction to the instant and immediate,  crowded lives filled with stuff, events, talking, escapism, searching for meaning by filling every last moment.   We do not take time often enough to listen, to be silent, to feel the cool soil in our fingers, to watch and wait for things to grow.  Rather challenging.   

    Dogma

    Here’s a find for the first day of the new year – thanks to the very soon to be married for the heads up. I like cartoons, and the more insightful (with the odd bit of cynicism) the better. The cartoon below is from “The Ongoing Adventure of ASBO Jesus”.

    dogma.jpg

    I like it. A lot. My thoughts are less about the merit (or not) of the views captured by the statements, but rather what they typify. Christianity in our postmodern world is often viewed as a package of strong views such as these, and precious little else. If only dogma was quite as cute as the little dog here. No, Christianity is less known for its acceptance, grace, mercy and justice than for dogmas that often propagate attitudes that are the antithesis of these things. I don’t propose a wishy-washy theology that wavers like a cultural chameleon. I am just not sure that these views are as central to the heart of Jesus, the reason we call the bible “good news” as they are sometimes made to be. Maybe our dogma needs to be exercised off leash. Thanks for the cartoons Jon.

    Ho Ho Ho Hum….

    Hope you all like the snow traipsing across my screen – I thought I had better do something a little festive here to mark the season!  Please don’t misinterpret my title for any scrooge like disdain for Christmas.  On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful time of the year.  I love the holidays, choosing presents, and yeah, I am not so holy as to deny the fact that I like receiving them too.  My title is more a reflection on what is left about Christmas when the spending, giving, receiving and returning frenzy is over?  (Lets face it, a lot of unwanted presents are given and received every year.  I am sure that ebay went wild by about midmorning on December 25th).  Most gifts lose their gleam quickly enough.  No matter how much they were or are desirable.  I found this clip on youtube that sums it up nicely.  Except it tries unhappily to blend the story of Jesus with Christmas present disatisfaction.  There is something disturbing about Jesus, who during his time on earth had very little in the way of possessions, being portrayed as an infant bemoaning the fact that he received frankinsense instead of an iphone (ok, I am reading my own wants into this one!).  I think it is symptomatic of our culture that is far more focussed on receiving rather than giving.  I know there are exceptions to this everywhere, and those stories, individuals and communities should be celebrated.  But our obsession with “stuff” irks me.  Not the least because I am guilty too, even though I know better.   I haven’t had many people wish me “happy Christmas this year”.  No, it is not because I have no friends, but because people seem to be wishing each other “happy holidays”, “enjoy the festivities”, and other such greetings.  Nothing much to do with “Christ”mas at all.  And maybe this is appropriate.  Or at least honest.  If celebrating God coming to live amongst us is at best shoved off to one side at Christmas, then lets not pretend.   For those of us who follow Jesus, the challenge is loud and clear during this time we call “Christmas”, and beyond it.  For the consumerist scourge that raises its head at Christmas is alive and well all year round.  

    loosing and binding

    I have been a Christian for a long time.  I couldn’t count how many sermons or seminars I have sat through, some with eagerness and many with barely disguisable boredom.  I am sure I have heard more than one deal with the subject of “loosing and binding”.  Usually to do with spiritual warfare.  For those of you who read my blog who may be unfamiliar with these terms (and a few more that follow), a quick play on Google or visit to the wiki will catch you up.  I have always been taught that loosing and binding was to do with managing supernatural nasties.  Enter Velvet Elvis.  I am part way through this thoroughly enjoyable book by Rob Bell, who has managed in a few short pages to challenge more than a few assumptions.   Loosing and binding has precious little to do with demons and such like, according to Rob.  Rabbis used to (and probably still do) sit around and rip through the Torah, arguing the finer points, challenging traditional interpretations, and master rabbis would make their mark by defining how something was to be understood and applied.  This may mean that some past understandings were discarded, and new applications put into force.  This process was referred to as “loosing” and “binding”.  A rule that no longer applied was “loosed”, and the fresh interpretation was considered “bound”.  This is the process that Jesus was referring to.  Jesus certainly did his share of “loosing” and “binding”.

    Probably not as exciting for sermon material as loosing and binding spiritual powers,  but I for one am rather glad to be set straight on the matter.  Or rather my old understanding has been “loosed”.  And there is something rather exciting about the process.  The Scriptures are to be engaged in, tossed around, teased out, debated hotly, always searching for life-giving meaning, with a bit of “loosing” and “binding” thrown in there – a dynamic process that is continually revisited.  The bible is never “done and dusted”.  When I get time, I plan to do a bit of research of my own into the phenomenon of “loosing” and “binding”, to see if I reckon Rob has “loosed” and “bound” rightly.

    Hmmm.  This has to be the most times I have used quotation marks in a post in all my  blogging years.

    Dipping into Barth

    “In Jesus Christ we are ready to learn to be told what Godhead or the Divine nature is. We are confronted with the revelation of what is and always will be to all other ways of looking and thinking, a mystery, and indeed a mystery which offends. The mystery reveals to us that for God it is just as natural to be lowly as it is to be high. To be near, as it is to be far. To be as little as it is to be great. To be abroad as it is to be at home. Thus when in the action and presence of Jesus Christ…. He chooses to go into the far country to conceal his form of Lordship in the form of this world, and therefore in the form of a servant he is not untrue to himself, but genuinely true to himself, to the freedom which is that of his love”. Vol 4:1, p 192 (for those of you who like to look things up).

    Time for a confession. I have not directly read Barth, not even held one of his 12 (or is it more?) volumes of Church Dogmatics. I haven’t even read much written by people who have read his weighty tomes. But I think I might. This quote comes from a lecture I listened to this morning. The “…” bit had too many big foreign Latin words for me to guess at for the purpose of this post. All that (not so helpful information aside), this little quote blew me away. We sing about the grandeur, majesty, greatness of God (and rightly so). But here Barth declares that it is as natural for God to be lowly as it is for God to be high. To be near as it is to be far. We know Jesus made himself lowly to come to the “far country” as Barth aptly puts it, but somehow we seem to separate this “lowliness” from God. It is as though while we believe Jesus is God, we don’t follow that thought to its fullness in how we see God, and how we think about how God is. These pictures apply to Jesus while here on earth, but don’t reflect on God himself. We are told that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father. What is true of Jesus is true of the Father. This is not to say that they are identical in every respect (a huge topic of discussion for another day). I wonder how our Christian living would be impacted if that was the grid through which all of our journey was experienced. Do we relate primarily to God who is far or near, lowly or high, abroad or at home? Can our faith and everyday living cope with the tension of these apparent “opposites”?

    In the Garden

    in-the-garden-photo.jpg

    These hands lovingly fashioned the universe, and knit together first man and first woman. Hands that rejoiced in the light of first day now trace the edges of an impenetrable darkness.

    God incarnate, Son of Man, on his knees. Terrified. Alone. Through tears the ground is a blur. All is silent, closing in as if the universe were about to fold in on itself, implode. Creation holds it’s breath, for the redemption of all that has been made resides in the hands of the one who kneels in the garden. Heart beats resound like the slapping of a drum. Trembling hands outstretched to the beloved Father. Despairing of the tortuous path that lay ahead that long black night. Somewhere in an unknown place a Father weeps for his Son.

    Your will be done.

    Hands that lovingly created life now wait for death. It is the only way. For in the shadow of the cross divine hands take hold of yours and mine.