Showing posts from October, 2011

telling letters - Paul to the Corinthians, one in the Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Now there are varieties of gifts, but (I paused here, it felt right to do so - what does that tell me? I was perhaps drawing attention to the fact that it is the same Spirit) the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. after I had been rehearsing this for a while, I suddenly began to put stress on 'all' and 'every'one. I had been finding it difficult to decide where to place the stress in this phrase without making it feel as though Paul is saying that everyone has every gift activated within them ...  

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I gestured here to random points around the room for 'each', and swept my hands up from my sides for 'common good'. Also, I smiled with common good - to lift here, because this is joyful, our common humanity. 
To one is given through the S…

telling letters - Paul to the church at Corinth

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 – The Ministry of Reconciliation

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. The better I got to know these words, the more I felt the concern of the writers for the recipients of this letter. Hypocrisy was something Jesus spoke against in the religious leaders of the temple; Paul addresses the issue in his letters, too, showing great concern for the harm that people do when they say one thing and do another, especially when the people they are teaching and leading are just beginning along the way of Jesus. This is one of the rewards for me of telling the letters - getting right inside, not only the argument, but the love of the writer for his audience. It …

reflecting on John's letter of love

1 John 4:7-21 – God Is Love
storytelling - synod/presbytery day one

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. I spoke the latter phrase as a parentheses - the writer punctuating his argument with theological commentary.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. The inherited text runs on here, but it felt to me like a better place to pause than where the text had a paragraph break (after the next sentence). No one has ever seen God; (I didn't add it in, but it felt like there was an implied 'but' here, which I hope I implied with expression) if we love one another, God lives in us, and his l…

reflecting on telling the letters of John and Paul

I thought I would reflect on my process preparing to tell portions from the letters of John and Paul for our Synod / Presbytery annual meeting's opening worship and Bible studies. As I was talking to others, the phrase - inhabiting the text - came up. It really is like that, preparing a portion of Biblical story to tell: you repeat the words over and over and they travel further and further into your being - mind and soul and spirit - and becomes part of you, and you enter into it. With the letters, I find that I enter into the argument and enter into the spirit of the writer, their passion and concern for the recipients of the letter, and it becomes my concern. It becomes my argument, too. And then - as observed by another in conversation at the meeting - it's like I am speaking to the listeners then and there, making the argument up myself.
So what happens to get to this point, and what's so good about it? So posting here, I'm going to take each of the portions I tol…

of discerning, dancing and becoming

This morning I read about a person who was discerning whether or not to go to college; she asked God for a sign, like a rainbow, to confirm her path.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. It comes a little too close to treating God like a puppet, or expecting that we are puppets, or something. Or it personifies God too much. Yes, perhaps that's it. My friend Heather commented here a few weeks back that God is like a feminine presence, with us all, all the time.
For me, discerning has been less about signs and wonders, and more about attentiveness. Perhaps looking for signs is a different kind of paying attention, I don't know, but as I pondered my response I remembered the process of discerning that led me to apply to candidate for ordained ministry, or the moment of arriving at the decision, more precisely.
The call to ordained ministry for me was like standing at a junction, with several paths I could choose; some clear and safe, others enticing but hard to make out.
And h…

A story - Jesus is challenged on the question of taxes

Matt 22:15-22
The story from the perspective of an (imagined) eye witness.
My Dad and I were in Jerusalem that year, it must have been only my second pilgrimage I think – I was not yet quite an adult. We were staying with an uncle. As we got closer to Jerusalem, we met people along the way who told stories of this man called Jesus, who seemed to be gathering quite a lot of followers. They were telling stories of healing and teaching and spending time with people we had always been told were unclean, and would make us unclean if we got too close. This Jesus guy sounded to me like a very strange person, but still, someone I really wanted to see for myself. When we got to Jerusalem and heard he was there too, we went straight away, following the crowds to get as close as we could. And we felt what the people on the roads had said they felt – that he was talking just to you, and wherever he was, that was where you wanted to be. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like Jesus at all. They…

The Esther Project: lessons in sustainability

I have been invited to share from the story of The Esther Project today at a national gathering of ministers from the Uniting Church. Feeling a little nervous - telling the story through the lense of sustainability when this became an unsustainable community makes me, its leader, vulnerable. However it is a story we need to tell, revealing lessons we as a church must learn if we are to enable new models of church to emerge and flourish, enriching our wider communities with nurturing communities of faith.
The full text will become a chapter in the book I am going to write - now that I have finally begun - but the nutshell I have arrived at in regards to sustainability is this:

Fresh expressions need time and money. The church will need to fund ideas and dreams, give time and resources to leaders pursuing possibilities, making space for opportunities, building relationships. Out of these relationships fresh expressions may - may - emerge.
God is always calling us beyond where we are. We…

Why do we sing?

Well, yesterday was all about why we sing.
Jonathon Welch's keynote explored the question first up:
Apparently someone has done experiments with water, playing music or saying a word at a glass or bottle of water then freezing it. When you freeze water, crystals form. Depending on what word or music was directed at the water, the crystals took different shapes. Yes, water responds to words and music. Speaking hate at the water caused the crystals to shatter. We are 80% water. We respond physically to music; we respond physically to what is spoken to us and how.
Also, when we hear music, it is not the logical left side of the brain that responds, it is the emotional right side of the brain. We have no choice, but to respond to music. And this is how / why music helps us to open up emotionally; why it opens us up to healing.
Jonathon's experiences with choirs of people from disadvantaged situations shows how, even though they don't seek to be a counselling help group, or a r…

on arts, culture, and social inclusion - Jonathon Welch part 1

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Jonathon Welch speak, as part of the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts' Weekend with Jonathon Welch.
Jonathon shared a lot of his own story, in a generous gift of himself than any of us were expecting. Much of his story, and along the way the stories of folk from the Choir of Hope & Opportunity (formerly Choir of Hard Knocks) and others, demonstrates of music what I so often observe about story: through music (or story) Jonathon finally saw how everything he had been given came together, why he had been given the gifts he has - for the benefit of the community. And isn't that why any of us have the gifts we have - so that together we can live out the fulness of our humanity?
He spoke of the gift that the choir had been - giving people a much longed-for chance to participate in life. And more than the music - which, by the way, is enough on its own, contrary to so many people's apparent opinion - the learnt to work together…

on Christmas Trees and Holiday Trees

This is part of an email that was sent to me today:
Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year which prompted CBS presenter, Ben Stein, to present this piece which I would like to share with you. I think it applies just as much to many countries as it does to America . The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year…

of returning to God's way of Love

Stories weave in and around and through each other in such mysterious and enlightening ways sometimes.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that the book of reflections I'm using has been inviting me to read Psalm 119 in recent weeks. Today we reached the final stanza of that epic psalm, and its final verse struck me.
I have gone astray ... I have not forgotten thy commandments (KJV - I like reading the psalms in this version, the language is beautiful, and we all know I'm a fan of Shakespeare - this is his language).
I digress.
These words from the psalmist reminded me of an image that emerges for me when I consider the notion of 'sin'. There's a lot of baggage and years of unhelpful theology that tumble after that word, and get in the way of my understanding the message from the Epistles, and understanding our relationship with God. So I have this picture, and thankfully it seems to appear like the 'beep' over people's bad language in family tv timeslots,…

A chance to sing with and hear Jonathon Welch!

This Weekend ...
Conference and Concert with Jonathon Welch!  Performer, conductor, speaker, teacher and social inclusion activist – Jonathon Welch AM has inspired Australians to reconnect with music and opened our eyes to issues including homelessness, depression and addiction. Jonathon’s talent and passion were showcased on ABC TV’s Choir of Hard Knocks and Jail Birds. Workshops include singing and non-singing options.
Conference Friday evening October 14th and Saturday October 15th Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders Street Registration: $120 conc. / $140 reg.
Can't make the conference but want to hear Jonathon Welch perform? Concert Saturday October 15th at 7:30pm Maughan Uniting Church Tickets: $10 conc. / $15 reg.
Come along to the concert featuring the conference choir with Jonathon Welch and also enjoy...
The Voice of Transition - a group of young Adelaide vocalists who sing, arrange and generally rock out to produce amazing music together. With a broad range of repertoire and an outs…

on the doors of opportunity

Life really is interesting. This week I’ve faced some open doors – one open that I had walked through only to come up against another unexpected door before I could go any further, and another that had been left ajar for some time, with hope but not promise it would open more fully. The unexpected door remained shut, but in the mean time the preferred door fulfilled its hope and promise and swung open …
And then I was reading my daily reflection today and the practices bit is exploring discernment this month. There’s a line that is still ruminating: ‘… you learn to look and listen for the nudges and whispers of God. God often speaks through unexpected events and persons.’ This seems to me to be a picture of God acting like humans, the same sort of interaction we have with each other. But is it like that? does God tell us – go this way, go that way? Park here, apply for that job? Or do we apply for jobs, explore opportunities and in the exploring, praying and listening for the call of …

doing it for ourselves

I was sitting in the lounge today, waiting for my lunch to cook, when I heard a crash in the courtyard outside the window. The courtyard is sunken, about 6 or 7 steps down from the driveway, covered, with a wall around one corner that has vine and jasmine crawling over it. It seems that a koala may have been climbing on the wall and slipped down the vine into the courtyard. And then he (why is my default assumption that this koala was a boy?) had to find his way out.
The photos can speak for themselves with what he tried. It was very hard to watch, though, and I felt a little bad taking the photos (I stepped away from the windows occasionally out of respect for the koala needing to find his way without an audience). But this was one of those instances when I really couldn't help - the obvious language barriers would make my visitor feel a little threatened, and koalas are not cuddly teddy bears with those frightening claws ...

As I've been thinking about the koala's effort…

Psalms, prayer and a dream

I’m really enjoying Openings, a daybook of saints, psalms and prayer (Larry James Peacock) (available from MediaCom). I don’t spend even half an hour with it usually, but since I moved my papasan chair into my room with my table, which I’ve decorated with monet prints from diaries and calendars, I have finally found my way into a daily rhythm of sitting with psalms in stillness. The book has for each day a person to remember, a passage of scripture (usually from the psalms), a reflection for contemplation and some suggestions for spiritual practices. It’s one page per day. Tiny criticism is the usa-centricity of it, but one writes for one’s own context and that’s the author’s context. It’s not overpowering, the people for remembering do come from places other than America regularly enough, and even when the reflections centre on education and teachers in September which is out of context for an Australian academic year, it’s still helpful guidance to remember the people who have taugh…

church as exercise for the heart

thanks to the South Australian Council of Churches e-news for this reflection which came through today:

Gospel Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son…” Matthew 22:1-14
For reflection… Heaven, the scriptures assure us, will be enjoyed within the communal embrace of billions of persons of every temperament, race, background, and ideology imaginable. A universal heart will be required to live there. Thus, in this life, it is good to get some practice at this, good to be constantly in situations that painfully stretch the heart. Few things - and we certainly all admit this - stretch the heart as painfully as does church community. Conversely, when we avoid the pain and mess of ecclesial encounter to walk a less painful private road or to gather with only persons of our own kind, the heart need not and generally does not stretch. Going to church is one of the better cardiovascular spiritual exer…

how then shall we live?

Sunday's reflection at Belair was inspired by Psalm 19, Matthew 21, and the story of Clare of Assisi, and followed along the theme that's woven through most of my reflections this year - God's way of love (also known as the kingdom of God / heaven).
Clare of Assisi lived a life of radical poverty, inspired by Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan monks of his order. This was really radical poverty - Clare and her fellow nuns refused to own anything, even in common. Even the reasonably strict Benedictine order instructs people to own things in common. They only ate what the Franciscan monks would beg for them (they're in the 13th century, and it was not advisable for women to beg). Clare fought hard with the various popes to protect their rule of life, and succeeded, mostly. Within a decade of her death, though, the nuns were ordered by the church to follow a rule of life much more like the Benedictine Rule, having to give up the institutional poverty they had committed …