Monthly Archives: March 2012

Milk and honey

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Easter – our blessed reminder and most significant time of year – is approaching fast. By this time next week we will (should?) be right in the middle of the weekend’s remembrances. The Passover lamb now only a memory, a sacrifice made obsolete by the Lamb of God. The door, left open at the end of every Passover Seder as a symbol of their expectant hope for the arrival of the Messiah, no longer necessary – the Messiah and the Kingdom are already near…are here…

Thoughts that enliven me with thankfulness and a re-ignited passion, as I’m sure many of you are, too. Because when I am again confronted with what exactly God was willing to do to reach me, I realise that the sky should be the limit where my life for God is concerned. But this passion and these best of intensions are so often exactly like New Year’s resolutions – they last as long as the feast does…we are inspired to do more, as we should be, only to then fall back into our routine faith – our biggest (only?) desire the desire to be comforted each Sunday…is that the Kingdom of God that Jesus planned? That He gave His everything for?

This is my body, this is my blood...for you...

“So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God…Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God….You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted…Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” – 1 Peter 2:1-11

Yes, the basics are important – we need to start out with comfort and security…with milk…but we cannot stay there…for if we stay there we cease to grow. Milk, the desire to be comforted, should only be our BEGINNING; and not the end we have made it to be. Yes a firm foundation is absolutely essential – sound knowledge of God’s being and what He has done – but a building is not built only to look at, it is meant for living in and around, as the provider of shelter and comfort and a safe space. The laying of the foundation, our new identity as living stones in God’s house, has to have life-altering consequences – for ourselves, yes, but even more so for the people who surround us everyday. A building can only really “be” a building if it’s serving its purpose…we can only really “be” the faithful if our lives become less about ourselves with every day we are given.

We must become the change we want to see in the world.”  – Ghandi

May this Easter be the push we need. May we become the faithful Jesus envisioned while giving all of Himself.

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The shape of me

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Vive la différence!

One of my first assignments as a newbie at 13.tv was to create an inspirational art piece on the beauty of suffering. Some of the first things that came to mind were images of a glassblower with his glass, or a potter with his/her clay – an idea that became the centre of our video. Thursday night Flaps made use of our video clip as an introduction to his #Reverb session, with the clip serving as an idea booster. We had to think about the potter and the clay, about ourselves as the clay with God as the Potter, and then write down ten statements. It was both a humbling and an inspiring process to look at and talk about each other’s statements – serving as a reminder of who we are, Who we belong to, and what our lives are meant to be. And so I decided to share my ten statements with you…maybe it can be the reminder you need…or maybe this is the good news you have yet to hear…

I belong to the Potter.

I cannot see what I will become; I have to trust the Potter for the end result.

Even the simplest of clay items are made because they are needed, because they make an impact/difference.

The forming process takes a lot of work…may sometimes mean almost restarting.

The work is never really finished, there are always more things to do or add…but the result of this tweaking process is always better and more beautiful…more meaningful.

This tweaking process, this becoming more, is almost always equal to more kneading (discomfort) and baking (pain).

My cracks remind me of God’s grace.

My cracks are what make me unique and beautiful, but only if I am filled to the brim with God’s Spirit, making it impossible for Him not to shine through every sliver and cranny.

Being the clay means that there is no other position than vulnerable and completely exposed before the Potter. The clay cannot become anything other than another lump without the Potter. The trick is to live into daily acceptance of that fact…and finding peace.

I can trust the Potter completely – the Potter never starts something He has not dreamt about, never begins working on a lump of clay He hasn’t envisioned a purpose for. His efforts with me equal my meaning.

A joyful noise..."If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us." (2 Cor 4:7)

I will rise

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I might be one of the only idiots who thought about watching “127 Hours” without ever quite getting around to it…but as providence would have it I was channel hopping last night and came across it just as it was starting…so I finally watched it…and sat in silent awe.

Now, for today’s blog, we’re leaving aside the fact that Danny Boyle is one of the most talented and visionary directors of our time, as well as the fact that “127 Hours” is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. No, because watching the movie made me think about “Slumdog Millionaire” – his other big recent film – and about the golden thread that runs through both movies. What it is that makes us survive suffering and adversity – triumphantly…even beautifully. What it is that makes some fight even harder where others would long ago have given up and/or died. What it is that gives strength to the spirit in circumstances where the body is drained.

Now I know this is going to sound corny, but it doesn’t make it any less true – in both of these movies, in these very different but equally terrible situations, what made the different people keep fighting and keep striving was a dream. Their rising above, their realisation that there is something more, their belief in that something, made them continue on when it seemed impossible.  But we’ve all heard that we need a dream, so what’s new? And we all do have lots of dreams. For me, the freshness lay in just being reminded of what our dream should be. For the people in these stories did not have just any dream. It is not just any dream that will make us triumph.

Their dreams were about people – about meaningful relations – about impacting on one or two lives. That’s all…but that’s all that’s needed…for in this dream lies beautiful strength.

Dreams of bigger houses, more things, success, fame etc. cannot carry us through darkness and pain. Only dreams of those hearts near us…of having hearts near us. Only dreams of knowing that our life has made at least one other breathe easier. Only those dreams can make us do the impossible…can make us rise…can give meaning in any and every situation.

Let’s make this the desire of our hearts – today and every day.

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” – Matthew 6:22-23

Looking for heaven

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David (www.daviddraper.org), one of the most inspired and inspiring people I have had the privilege of becoming friends with, posted a tweet about a blog Peter Rollins wrote “The Rapture”. The ironic (?) thing is that I have been thinking along these lines the whole week. So, while reading the post, many things went through my mind. And, though the comments on his site flooded in, and there still is much more to be said on the subject – theological and otherwise – it made what I wanted to say even clearer…and so here goes…follow me…

I am reminded of a story I heard whilst studying…a story of a boy and a horse. While the boy was spending time with his horse one afternoon a moment happened…a moment of connection between man and beast, a moment where the boy saw the horse for who he was…another living soul, made by God with the same love, grace and care as he himself was…he recognised that he was not just interacting with an “it”, but with “another”. Whether this story be truth or legend, it led to one man – Martin Buber – beginning to speak differently about God and our relationship with Him and with what He created. And it started a revolution in the theological world, which led to the beginning of dialogical theology – where theologians like Karl Barth come in. It could never again be about man “over” the world, “looking down” on the world…it had to be about man being aware of the world, “looking into” its many different eyes, and truly seeing the soul residing there. “One who truly meets the world goes out also to God.” – Martin Buber 

Why am I thinking, and writing, about this now? What does this have to do with anything? Everything! For we as believers keep ourselves busy with many things that, in the end, are all about the business of maintaining and running the faith: Who is in and who is out? How does one get in? Can you ever fall out again? How do you look once you’re in? How do you behave towards those that are “out” – the others, the sinners, the world…whatever you prefer to call them? How do you ensure that they do not contaminate you? Are they deserving of being saved? So many questions, so much time and argument and paper and living passionately thrown into it. All to get closer to answering the question: “What would Jesus do?” and how do I ensure that I am doing enough to not be left behind. Because I am certain that all of us, the faithful, DO want to live lives that satisfy God…maybe even change the world…AND YET, despite all our passionate talking and argueing and writing and living, the world is ever-more broken by the second. And we comment regularly on its shattering…especially when the effects thereof come close to our hearts and our homes…BUT that’s where it stays…we remain bystanders…eyewitnesses ready to tell the story, but not ready to get involved…watching as creation around us goes to hell…And all of this made me think of Karl Barth and of the way he thought and wrote about the world; it made me return to his work; it made me seek inspiration there. This is what I have so far…

“This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.” – Karl Barth (The Humanity of God)

“Faith is not an art. Faith is not an achievement. Faith is not a good work of which some may boast while others can excuse themselves with a shrug of the shoulders for not being capable of it. It is a decisive insight of faith itself that all of us are incapable of faith in ourselves, whether we think of its preparation, beginning, continuation, or completion. In this respect believers understand unbelievers, skeptics, and atheists better than they understand themselves. Unlike unbelievers, they regard the impossibility of faith as necessary, not accidental …” – Karl Barth (Karl Barth Reader)

“Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way…no one can be saved – in virtue of what he can do. Everyone can be saved – in virtue of what God can do…religion is the possibility of the removal of every ground of confidence except confidence in God alone…to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world…laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God…joy is the simplest form of gratitude…The best theology would need no advocates; it would prove itself…” – Karl Barth

Faith is, first and foremost, about being…in yourself, with the people around you, in the world. And this being requires your full attention, you’re giving everything of yourself, your becoming involved, your looking into the eyes of the world – wherever and with whatever you may find yourself. Now the “other”, the “sinner”, the “world” is no longer an abstract concept to be debated about and decided on…now they have become part of you…and your life and your efforts cannot, no WILL not, remain the same.

Engaging the heart and soul of the world

“If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” – Matthew 7:9-12

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults-unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.” – Matthew 7:1-5

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. ‘Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy’. ‘I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best-the sun to warm and the rain to nourish-to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” – Matthew 5:38-48

“The zeal for God’s honor is also a dangerous passion, that the Christian must bring with him the courage to swim against the tide instead of with it… accept a good deal of loneliness, will perhaps be nowhere so clear and palpable as in the church, where he would so much like things to be different. Yet he cannot and he will not refuse to take this risk and pay this price… he belongs where the reformation of the church is underway or will again be underway.” – Karl Barth

What would Jesus do? Start looking around you…start interacting and opening up…the answer WILL come!

Delightful ambiguity

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I am the first person to accentuate the fact that life is not as easy as “black and white” – I have experienced the truth of this so many times – life is more about navigating shades of grey. But I can understand why so many people try to make life that simple. Heck, I sometimes feel the desire myself!

Why? Because it would be SO much easier! No more complications, no more having to think of all contingencies, no more worrying about all the different angles and perspectives, no more having to think long and hard about the people in front you and around you…about their lives and experiences and where in the myriad shades of grey they find themselves and having to accommodate that in your thinking, speaking and living. Just simple, easily identified truth…one truth…

The mundane plodding life

But then I can’t help but think of the movie “Equilibrium” and of how (literally) grey that world of “black and white” becomes…how deadening simplicity and one truth can be (is?). And I think of Edward Norton’s words: “All people are paradoxical. No one is easily reducible, so I like characters who have contradictory impulses or shades of ambiguity. It’s fun, and it’s fun because it’s hard.” And I realise that it’s not only true of characters, but of real life; for aren’t we all mere actors on the stage of life (thank you, William Shakespeare)? Which, once again, confronts us with ambiguity – for easy and simple does not bring joy or the fulfilment that a full and complicated life has as its reward…

Life: the complicated version

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

So here’s to life in all its colourful shades of grey, to ambiguity, to the struggle of living complicated lives and engaging with complicated people. Here’s to no easy answers…sometimes no answer at all. Here’s to the colour and beauty and passion of living in the shades of grey. Here’s to the kaleidoscope of people and circumstances we then have the privilege of sharing life with. May God grant us the grace to live here as a blessing, even though it’s hard.