Life Interrupted – 8

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

I’m not American or a Person of Colour but it would be hard to write another post without talking about what’s going on in the US. I hope this is a moment of real change, of breaking and reforming. I stand with the protestors, I feel their pain, #blacklivesmatter and I want to do whatever I can to make this better.

In Australia we have no less of an issue if you consider the appalling treatment for our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Since the 1991, over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody with no convictions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are by percentage of population are the most incarcerated people on earth. They have lower levels of numeracy and literacy, and lower life expectancy. It is a national disgrace.

As the above verse from the Beatitudes says, believers in Jesus are called to be peacemakers, which does mean keeping the peace (being neutral) but actively working towards peace. This means working to undo the systemic inequality that holds back People of Colour.

To do this we all need to our own work, as Sarah Bessey’s point out in her post A Kairos Moment, so we can be an allies to People of Colour. The “work” that is ours to do is informing myself, listening, being led by People of Colour, amplifying and centring their voices and experiences.

This work will be hard and needs deep reflection, asking ourselves and each others difficult questions, and facing truths that may not be palatable. But it is needed and necessary by everyone who sees the protests, who hears the cries of pain and wants something better.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Interrupted – 4

I am not as upset as I should be about being unable to go to church over Easter. While these services are always great, this year, I have enjoyed the quiet contemplation of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection at home. On my own.

The experience for me was deeper and more meaningful; communion was with what I had on hand a hot cross bun and cup of tea, I was awake early and saw the sunrise. I read the story of the women who were the first to preach the good news and deeply felt their confusion, sorrow and joy.

I often think about the women in Jesus’s life. Mostly because when I was growing up we never talked about them, it was always Peter running to the tomb, Jesus appearing to the twelve, Thomas the doubter, the walk to Emmaus. But right there in print (and in all four gospels) – the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’s body and found the stone rolled away. They ran and told the disciples and became the first people to tell of Jesus’s resurrection.

In the world of Judah 2000 years ago, the women who followed Jesus must have be remarkable but we know almost nothing about them. A few are named but you only heat more about three of them Mary his mother, Martha and her sister Mary Magdalene (my biblical hero) who once sat at Jesus’s feet to hear him teach rather than serving him.

I wonder what attracted them to Jesus. Maybe they knew him through brothers or husbands and joined his movement this way. Or maybe, I’m speculating here, they threw away conventions because they saw the same thing in Jesus as I do 2000 years later and wanted to follow him.

My Jesus is deeply human – laughing readily, crying just as much; he was a loner even though surrounded by friends, he felt the pains and sorrows of others and just wanted to love them until it was better. If hugging was a thing, he would have been great at it, with just the right amount of arms and enfolding (think David Tennant in Doctor Who).

He also had an edge, a sense of power about him that could silence the most unruly mob with a look; he was unconventional, hanging out with outsiders. I love that he was a  nuisance to people in authority and didn’t hold back telling them what he thought or when they were wrong, which may or may not be my inspiration to do the same.

In an isolated pandemic world, where there are so many sorrows, the Jesus who wept over Jerusalem and was so distressed before his arrest that he sweated tears of blood is the message I need right now. That Jesus is so human that he completely understands where the world is and wants to sit with us, hold our hands and tell us it will be alright.

The Jesus I encountered this Easter is less about sin and more about radical love and compassion. Less about eternal life and more about using whatever talents I have to work towards the transformation of this world. For all the hardships in this current situation, I wouldn’t exchange this gift for all the church services in the world.

 

 

 

Life interrupted

It was my birthday yesterday. But I didn’t much feel like celebrating. News from around the world is grim. I spent it pretty much on my own, although with a couple of new four legged friends called Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I’m okay with that, as it seems that it’s a time for quiet reflection and prayer.

Corona Virus – so tiny you need an electron microscope to see it, has turned the world on its head. It’s ironic, when you think about it – how something so small has had a power greater than all the rhetoric, philosophy and religion to bring upheaval.

As a science graduate, this stuff is endlessly fascinating. We studied the plague, the Spanish Influenza epidemic and all of major outbreaks of disease throughout history. Science, which is ignored when inconvenient, now is the only trusted source decision makers can rely on – as it should be.

Last week seemed like a lifetime. There was an anxiousness, I barely concentrated at work. I kept checking the news. Everything changed so fast, even the news presenters struggled to keep up. Social distancing and flattening the curve are new but unwelcome additions to the lexicon.

I’ve been trying for days to gather my scattered thoughts. Like a lot of people, I’m a bit scared. If we thought the hellish fires of summer were the worst of it, well, the world had other plans.

On Saturday we had an extraordinary parish council meeting to discuss the new government regulations on social distancing. I voiced what we all wanted, to stay open; others voiced what was needed, the decision was rightly made to suspend services. There were tears.

A number of people have said how this is an opportunity to do church differently. And how if two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am (Matthew 18:20), all it did was reinforce to me that a church is not a building or a service but a group of people.

In our live-streamed services yesterday, our vicar, talked about Psalm 137 where the Israeli captives in Babylon were wondering how to sing praises to God in a strange land. We are in a very strange land and like them I don’t feel like singing.

I can’t help thinking about all the warnings we have ignored. We didn’t listen, just kept walking down this path thoughtlessly and now we are being made to listen. We valued celebrity over checkout-chicks, CEOs over cleaners; we put stuff before people and we are now needing to re-evaluate.

As humans we believe we are in control and that we can bend Mother Nature to our will. But Mother Nature takes orders from no one. If there is one lesson I hope we all learn out of this, it’s that we control absolutely nothing, and that God, the uncaring universe or whatever you want to call it, is a force more powerful than all the schemes of people.

Everywhere you look there are stories of loss, postponed weddings, dream holidays cancelled, families separated by borders closing. Things that lift people’s spirits like arts and sports are being cancelled, so many people have lost their jobs. People’s mental health is suffering, there’s been a huge increase in domestic violence. The stories out of Italy are horrific. Death of our most vulnerable looms large in our minds.

If you have been to the supermarket it’s unnerving. Seeing empty shelves, as people stockpile food and toilet paper (!!), is the dystopian future we’ve all seen in movies. For people used to having everything laid out for them, it must be a rude shock to realise there’s not an endless supply of everything (imagine that).

Right now, it’s hard to see how we get ourselves out of this mess. I keep thinking about this being the moment to stop and reflect on our choices as individuals, communities and countries – indeed as the world. Perhaps realising that we have responsibilities to our neighbours and communities is the wake up call we need right now.

If you ever needed a reminder that you are more than just an individual, Corona virus is the strongest indication ever that you do not just belong to yourself and your family. Across the world, each of us belongs to each other, all tied together with an invisible piece of string. I find that so comforting because I think it says that there is some other bigger force in the universe. And that is the most beautiful thought ever.

The world is a bit too much for me right now… So I’ve gone small. Forcing myself to think about today only. Right now, I’m thinking about what to make for dinner tonight (steak and veggies). My solar has been installed, Hemingway is purring away beside me, Fitzgerald, in perhaps a mood we are all expressing, is hiding under the couch.

Friends have messaged me, my family brought up cakes. They have organised a zoom meeting to sing me happy birthday tonight. We have another extraordinary parish council meeting.

And tomorrow, tomorrow I start to work from home.

Losing my religion

Last night we had a parish council meeting, and it was long and hard and I lost out on something that mattered to me. Of course right now I’m massively emoting, it’s early and I’ve not had much sleep.

I feel pretty foolish; I wrote something about it in the church newsletter, which clearly just looks silly now. As does my joy at clawing a little bit of the injustice that is swamping us.

I raised this issue because it was important to be seen to do something. It’s a small gesture that I hoped would shift minds and hearts, and set us on the path to larger actions.

I raised it because I want the Jesus I love – the radical street preacher who spoke truth to power to be the Jesus I meet in church. I don’t want my Jesus to be the nice safe white man who made up a set of rules we follow. I want to see the person who cared for the sick, the outcasts, who challenged people, who was political and who took a side reflected in my church. I’m not sure if I find him there.

And that’s down to me… Perhaps I need to look harder, or look elsewhere. For some time I’ve wondered if I’m a good fit for that church. It’s been easy and safe to go there but maybe that’s the problem – Jesus is not easy or safe.

It would be a wrench of course because they are good people, some of who I love and consider friends, most I’ve known for half my life. And right I’m hurting and prone to making rash decisions. But I can’t keep ignoring this, so maybe it’s time to stop, reflect and seriously think; what kind of Christian am I called to be, and is my current church is equipping me to do this.

I hope the answer is yes, but I don’t know unless I ask. And if the answer is no, then I hope God gives me the strength to take a new path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a light switch – an advent reflection

We are in the season of advent, a period of darkness and waiting before the light and hope that comes from the birth of Jesus.

Right now, I am in my own season of darkness, season of waiting. A job I’ve been doing for 18 or so months… I didn’t get it when it came up permanently.

This is a terrible place to be and not just because I’m 40 years old, have a mortgage and I’m facing unemployment at Christmas. I’m angry, hurt, humiliated, bewildered.

There’s been much ugly crying. It’s feels like both a blessing and a curse to be an adult with commitments when all you want to do is crawl into bed and stay there.

Mostly though I’m just really sad at the loss of everything I hoped for. And now in almost no time at all having to say goodbye to friends and colleagues.

There’s no one to blame for this but myself. I did the best I could but not well enough. And while we could talk about the unfairness of it all, in the end no good will come from that. All I can do is take the hit, learn the lessons and make sure it never happens again.

The initial shock has worn off now and in between the moments of sheer panic, I’m trying to be philosophical. As a friend described this situation to me as God pulling the portcullis down and saying your life is going in a different direction. That’s great I’m really looking forward to that, but did he have to deliver the message with a blunt spoon?

But Advent just isn’t a period of waiting in the darkness. It’s about searching and hoping and looking for the light, it’s about waiting well and waiting wisely (to quote my vicar). I’m trying to do that.

And in having the worst happen, I’ve found a quiet peace, a determination to look forward, to reassess and find the light switch. I have absolutely no idea where it is but I’m hoping and trusting that I’ll find it when I need too.

All this year as I’ve been learning meditative prayer and I’ve been increasingly frustrated that it feels like it is making things worse not better.  In facing this failure, I see that it has changed me. This time, rather than be bitter, defeated and thinking how useless I am at everything, I’m actively choosing compassion for myself and others.

I’m fortunate that friends, family, colleagues and my amazing network have reminded me frequently that this loss doesn’t reflect on my abilities. And these people whom I love have provided words of consolation and unconditional support. My community are actively praying, hoping and helping me look for the light switch and for this I am blessed.

Despite how this has ended, I mostly have no regrets about the decisions I made along the way. I acted true to myself and I gave it my all. Who could ever ask for anything else? Sure I’ll be more circumspect in the future but I still got to do amazing things this year and for that I’m truly thankful.

So while this isn’t the ending I wanted, maybe it’s the ending I needed. And the light that shines faintly in the distance… I put one foot in front of the other until it’s close.

A closer relationship: a year long prayer journey

At the moment I’m not in a happy place. My life hurts and most of that is self-inflicted. My inability to manage my stress levels and the physical impact this has, is taking a toll.

In such situations it’s natural to turn to whatever you think will help, and for me that includes the assurances found in faith. And yet I find this a constant battle against my basest instincts to control and worry about the outcomes.

I’m sick of this, I’m sick of living like this – being a stress head isn’t what I want out of my life anymore. And yet change is hard. To just say stop worrying is for me like asking the me to move a mountain.

Right now if someone said to me standing on your head in China would be useful, I’d probably give it a go. I need to do this by whatever methods work for me and this includes faith.

There are millions of stories about the power of faith to transform lives. Often these are way more dramatic than my situation – overcoming a life of crime or drug addiction. And yet I believe that I also can be transformed.

But what does it mean to be transformed through faith? What does it look like and how does one do it?

There is only one answer, prayer and a closer relationship with God.

I’m not even sure I know what being in a closer relationship with God means. Let alone how you achieve it. (As I’m writing this the voice of a faith friend is in my ear saying you don’t achieve it, you just show up and God does it).

In my life, prayer has often been the obligatory thanks for everything and could you please make this happen. But prayer is supposed to be a two way communication, a way to build a relationship.

But I don’t have hours a day to spend in prayer, and while Paul says we should pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), the reality is, it’s difficult to do so. 

Perhaps the best way for me to know how things have changed is to pray about specific things as part of the journey. This is not a list to Santa of all the things I want,  these are areas in my life where I want to be changed.

At the moment talking prayer seems most natural to me but I want to explore other ways to pray. During Lent I started practicing centering prayer a ancient Christian meditative practice that finds God in the quietness of the spirit.

I find the 15 minutes I spend at morning and night saying my mantra are the nicest parts of my day.  It’s also a massive struggle to stop thinking and just let myself be. I’ll keep persisting with it though, learn and understand it because I’m attracted to the contemplative nature of this prayer.

This journey, won’t happen alone. There are friends I pray with and I have gained a prayer partner. An unexpected gift that I hope will allow us to do great things together.

I’ve made this a year long journey but this is an arbitrary date, useful as a point to reflect on how things have changed. In reality this will be the journey of a lifetime.

In going down this path, there is the possibility that I’ll end up somewhere else entirely. That’s okay. You can’t ask God to take you on a transformative prayer journey and not be open to it ending up where you didn’t intend it to go.

So here I go on this journey: in hope, possibility and prayer.