on communion

July 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm (Poetry, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

This is how I want to take communion. I want to hold a loaf fresh from the oven, the dough kneaded by the rough hands of a friend, warmth rising, infused with its sweet scent. I want to take this bread in my hands and break it open with my fingers, releasing its aroma. I want it to leave my hands and fill the hands of the one next to me. I want to take my communion in chunks. I want to indulge in it. I want to fill my mouth with it and I want it to satiate me. I want to hold in my left hand this meal and, after the moment of its recognition, I want to keep dipping it into olive oil and a little salt – raising it to my lips again and again. In my right hand, I want to hold a glass of red wine. I’ll sip it and swirl it and savor it – drawing out the rich breadth of it before swallowing. I want it to be filled to overflowing. I want it, as it fills my mouth with its flavor to remind me that this is everlasting. That it is good.

This is how I want to take communion. In homes and before fires, on beaches before waves, on mountains before open skies, in fields before sunsets. Around tables and around friends. In crowded rooms filled with laughter and in quiet corners filled with tears. And even in churches.

This is how I want to take communion. With loaves of bread that fill me, not wafer thin crackers that remind me I am empty. With glasses of remembrance, not sips of observance. I want it to be abundant, not scarce. I want it to fill my being, not dissolve on my tongue before I can even taste its goodness. I want it to satisfy my thirst, not wet my tongue leaving me desiring more. I want it to be sacramental, not sentimental. I want it in sacred spaces and profane, but not in abstracted places. I want it to be intimate and accessible, not isolated and exclusionary.

This is how I want it to be when I remember. This is how I want it to be when I sit with that sacrifice. This is how I want to know those words. This conspiring; this breathing-together. This community; this gift-together. This communion; this sharing-together. This covenant; this coming-together. I want it to merge beautifully with my everyday, not stand apart from my lived-experience. I want it to fuse my laughter and my crying, my sacred and profane and profound, my before and my after.

This is how I want to take communion.

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On unglamorous redemption

November 14, 2011 at 3:07 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , )

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself standing in front of a heap of rubble – the burnt out remains of a once thriving garment factory in Camden, New Jersey. Recently classified as “the most dangerous city” in America – based on crime data in 6 categories (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft) – Camden is one of the many left-behind cities of America; literally burning up amidst poverty, high rates of unemployment, low graduation rates, crime, gangs, abandoned properties and extremely high levels of ground and water-source pollution. This neighborhood shares much of the same sociological pedigree as Kensington. This was once a thriving site of construction and manufacturing, with neighborhoods built up around factories so workers could walk to work. The collapse of that system of life is evident throughout these streets. Slowly manufacturing moved out of this neighborhood, becoming globalised as wages became ever cheaper with production outsourced to third-world countries. Left in the wake of this exodus of production was the waste of years of noxious chemicals and pollutants, which have seeped into the groundwater and stripped the land so that little grows here. Those with the social mobility to move out of Camden did so, leaving behind the poorest with none of the social support systems to raise them up. Standing in a neighborhood with nothing left to attract corporate America, a community filled with all the waste of the American dream and none of the means for its actualization, I picked up a piece of brick from the now desolate factory and placed it in my pocket – a reminder, a memorial.

“Exegesis”, from the Greek “to lead out”: a critical examination and interpretation of, usually, a text, including investigation into the history and origins of the text, and study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience.

As we “exegete our neighborhoods” and our worlds, it is easy to become disillusioned and throw our hands into the air crying out “there is no hope”. But acquiescing to the desolation in our world denies the possibility of its redemption. If we sit back, overwhelmed by the social issues and their antecedents which we see all around us, we are saying redemption has no power, no hope. It is void. We cannot afford to deny redemption in our worlds since doing so denies its power in our lives. If we cannot hope for redemption in our streets we cannot hope for its work in our selves.

I don’t think many of us who have experienced this redemption would deny its work; rather, I think the answer lies in something Chris Haw said as he stood by the riverside talking of this place he calls home. In response to someone’s question of “What can be done?” he replied, “There are a thousand things that can be done, but none of them are sexy.”  There is little in the process of redemption that is glamorous or sexy or even attractive. But then again, neither was the act of redemption itself particularly glamorous, sexy or attractive. We hope for hope which looks like hope – bright-eyed and optimistic, happy-go-lucky and idealistic. Often the hope we get is the one which raises tired eyes and heads from the routine and repetition, and the messiness of human relationships and forces itself to look to the hills, from whence our help comes from. This hope is often unglamorous. It is tied in with shopping for groceries, and sweeping up trash only to have it reappear a few hours later. The redemptive process is undoubtedly restorative and powerful and can change our worlds even as it transforms our lives. It is the essence of our re-imagining. But it is process. Day in and day out. And it is rarely sexy.

“Christians get allured by the extraordinary: in mission, ministry, and witness the pull seems to be away from the ordinary towards the new, the exciting and the innovative. But maybe the real challenge of our times is to learn to affirm the ordinary things very deeply, doing our church and our theology and our praying whilst deeply engaged with these basic building blocks of life. This is a call for us to deal with the mundane things in our lives, but it is not a calling to dullness -it’s about discovering new possibilities of being creative, with the ordinary things of life.” (John Davies)

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on marriage not being a reward…

June 26, 2010 at 1:56 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

On Namrock this year I really felt pressed to share this stuff and so did. I believe it was God. If it turns out to be vastly theologically incorrect then either I got it wrong or popular theology did. I’m willing to take the risk, because I really believe this to be true….

I think there are a lot of lies, misconceptions, and false teachings that have gone on about Marriage and Singleness and so am very excited about speaking truth and life into those areas. Here goes: (Bullet points are just two things I said before the main part.)

1. I know that what I am going to say is not for everyone and there are some of you who are going to be sitting there and getting frustrated that it’s “that” topic again. I would like to ask you as a part of your worship tonight that you keep quiet and put up with it because there are a lot of people here who are really struggling with this issue and hurting a lot over it.

2. As we were sitting worshipping after communion I looked around and got a huge sense of loneliness. As I looked around at that group at Namrock I saw a LOT of people who were very very lonely and hurting.

There have been two primary bad teachings about marriage and singleness which the church has been responsible for over the years. The Catholic church has tended to lift singleness up as more spiritual and something to be attained. Nuns and priests and monks have been honoured over the years, while marriage – still one of the sacraments – has often been portrayed as a weak capitulation to the “things of the flesh”. Teachers of this view use Paul’s writings on singleness a lot. On the other hand, the Protestant church has glorified and spiritualised marriage, lifiting it up as the pinnacle of relational living. Teachers here will draw, ironically, on Paul’s teaching about husband’s loving their wives as Christ loved the church. I think both of these extremes have done the church a huge disservice. I want to speak into the Protestant view. I strongly believe that truth needs to be spoken directly into this area to bring release from guilt, condemnation and bad teaching.

Firstly, marriage is not your reward. It is not the thing you get once you have reached an acceptable spiritual level, once your relationship with God is right, once you have dealt with all your junk. Well-meaning christians promote the marriage-as-reward view with comments like this, “Just keep praying…” “Focus on your relationship with God” “God is jealous and He wants you all to himself” “Only when God is your everything – your provider, comforter, and Husband – will he give you a spouse” “Maybe you need to be getting into the Word more/doing more quiet time/praying more/working on your relationship with Him before getting into other relationships”. This is crap. Those are things that are not reserved for singles – married people should be doing them just as much! Marriage is not the thing you get when you have attained spiritual well-being and right relationship with God. This view is dangerous because 1. it puts married folk on a pedestal as the “ones who have arrived” – which believe me we are not! and 2. it puts single folk under an incredible amount of condemnation, guilt and worthlessness for not being “good enough” for a relationship. It condemns their relationship with God because, if you’re not married, obviously you are doing something wrong and haven’t earned a relationship yet. Once again, this is Crap. I have to say it that strongly because I really do believe that this is a HUGE lie taking down people in the church.

Secondly, a lot of people – naively and sometimes intentionally – teach that God will purposefully keep you in a place of singleness so that He can work on your character, teach you things, etc. Nonsense. I do not believe that God puts you in or keeps you in a place of singleness so that He can mold you. I do believe that in whatever place you are, God will work in that place and use the strengths of that circumstance to work in and through you. Yes, there are some things that would seem to be easier worked out while we are still single. But I can say this because if it were true that God keeps you single to work on you, then believe me I would still be single! There was a lot of stuff in my life before going into marriage that would have been much better worked out while I was alone. In fact, bringing it into marriage caused B and I a lot of pain and confusion, and was incredibly difficult. Singleness, according to the “working on your character” arguement ,would have been a much better place for all that to happen. But God did not keep me in that place til I or He had sorted it out – but in His incredible grace when I moved into marriage He still worked on it. You do not have to be single for God to be able to work on certain things in your life. But if you are – if that is the space you find yourself in now – then He will make use of that and work on those things. But He can do that just as well in marriage. He does not put you in or keep you in a place of singleness; He will work and use whatever place you are in to grow you.

This said, I have to say that marriage is wonderful. I love it. I am not trying to diss or put marriage down at all. If you desire marriage then by all means bring that continually before Him. But remember that marriage is not your reward and it is not something withheld until you tick all the boxes. Also, if you are in a place of singleness and you desire a relationship and to be married, do not live in the place of desire. Live in the place you are in. Live it to the full. Don’t miss out on the incredible adventure and the wonderful things that being single allows you to do because you are longing to be somewhere else.

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On public rememberance..

May 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , )

In preparation for my upcoming talk on Social Justice at church on Sunday, I have been reading a chapter by Wolterstorff entitled, “Justice in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible”.  Today, sitting in a borrowed car in the middle of one of the poorest and most destitute townships in Cape Town, I read about why social justice is so close to God’s heart. Why does God repeatedly and so emphatically enjoin Israel to render justice to the “least of these” – widows, orphans, aliens and the poor? Wolterstorff proposes two answers. Firstly they are to do it as a public rememberance or a memorial of their own deliverance, by God, from Egypt (Lev 19:33; Deut 24:7; Deut 24:21). In response to what God has done for them, and as a public testimony and memorial, they are to do likewise. Ah…the penny drops! *Unless you forgive your brother, I will not forgive you.* *The story of the merciful servant* There is a solid principal here which runs through the Bible, I believe: …  out of the forgiveness, redemption and restoration of relationship which Christ demonstrated to us, we are to forgive, redeem, and restore others. And to do so publically as a testimony of the justice which has been meted out to us in Christ.

Secondly, the bringing of justice is God’s own cause. His deliverance of Israel is but one example of His desire for and commitment to justice (Isaiah 58:6-7; Psalm 113:7-8). Israel, and by extension all who call themselves follows of Christ, was to “participate in Yahweh’s cause (abiding commitment to justice) by imitating and obeying Yahweh in pursuing justice” (p. 81). Why? Because “Yahweh loves justice”! (Isaiah 61:8; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 99:4).

“God acts justly and enjoins the doing of justice by his human creatures because God loves justice” (P. 81). This injunction is not arbitrary – rather His “pursuit of justice and Yahweh’s injunction to practice justice are grounded in Yahweh’s love”. God loves people, He DESIRES that they flourish, that they have SHALOM. Justice is indespensable to flourishing and shalom for everyone.

This excites me!

More on this… don’t want to spoil the talk on Sunday!

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on heroes

May 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , , )

Husband-man and I have just, delayedly, finished Heroes Season One. As I was thinking about dreaming and the ‘individual call’ question, I think I found a pretty good analogy in the series. On Heroes, everyone is special –  each with a distinctive special ability – and most of them feel the call to “Save the World”. So they set out, on their own, to fulfill their own personal destiny. In the process they cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate all the other ‘heroes’ whose tasks, also, are to save the world. In so doing, they very nearly screw  things up entirely ending with that dismal picture of the world in five years time.

I think we tend to do that. We stand with our own unique abilities, character, talents, or giftings (if you want to use Christianese). And we set out, by ourselves, to save the world – believing that we are the destined one, the chosen one; rather than the destined ones and chosen ones. The church. And so we set out longing to hear the specific call and to see the unique path layed out before us that will lead us to “hero-hood” and saving the world. And we cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate everyone else who is doing the same. The church.

I don’t think this is necessarily intentional or spiteful. I think it rather comes from a fundamental misunderstanding and misreading of Scripture, combined with a world-view which puts the individual at the centre and elevates self-hood. In light of these two, the quest for “God’s  individual plan for MY life” becomes completely understandable. A re-reading of Scripture, I believe, clearly demonstrates that while God does on occassion work through individuals (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, Esther, Daniel etc), His primary concern is with the destiny and path of nations, societies, people groups and communities. Secondly, I believe that God’s overall ‘plan’ – the coming of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven – can most efficiently, effectively, and exquisitely be achieved through individuals acting in their special capacity/ability/talent/gifting or dream IN COMMUNITY. I’ll do my little part, you do yours, and together we will have done something GREAT.

Shane Claiborne puts it this way:

Shane: Early in my youth, I spent a lot of time thinking, `What is God’s will for my life?’ You know how it goes – as if the whole universe kind of revolved around me. One day, I caught this idea from a priest: “Good things come to those who wait, but great things come to those who get off their butts and go find God at work.” That’s a very different way of thinking of things. And it’s very liberating to know that I don’t have to wait for God to write a magical formula on the wall for me, but I can look around for where God is at work and join in. Instead of staring at my sandals, I walk out my front door and look into the eyes of my neighbours.’

Sometimes it’s harder to be a part of a community than it is to just be a lone ranger or a vigilante. It can seem easier to be a soloist than part of a choir – but ultimately this is a story about community. I’ve got a quote on my wall that says, “I know you’re strong enough to do it alone, but are you strong enough to do it together?” …  Here’s another one: an old African proverb says `if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ In a sense, leadership is a choice to go far together rather than just to run as fast as you can on your own. Being someone who is always going fast, I am tempted to do things alone, but I have chosen to do life together. I have intentionally joined with others. Ultimately, we can do more together than I can on my own.” Excerpt from `Follow me to Freedom’ – Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins

So stop. Stop waiting for God to reveal the individual plan for your life. Find where what you have to give intersects with what the world needs. See, God ‘may’ have a specific path laid out for you (a Moses-plan if you like), but in the meantime while you are waiting for Him to reveal it to you, I think He has laid out enough general ground rules to keep you occupied – love mercy, practice justice, go into all the world, preach the good news, baptise, make disciples, love God, love people, pray unceasingly, always be ready to give an answer for the hope you have, be salt, be light, spread the aroma of Christ…. the list goes on. Find somewhere God is already at work, and join Him and the others already there. Take out your crayons, and draw. Dream.

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defining social justice

April 27, 2010 at 7:21 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

I think this is a pretty good definition, or at least understanding of, social justice. It is by no means complete, but the next step in my struggle with what this all means and how it translates into how we live our lives.

LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin

“The Jewish and the Christian scriptures repeatedly pair two inextricably interrelated qualities: “righteousness” (right relationship with God) and “justice” (right relationships among people). “Justice” is always focused on those who have been excluded from the advantages of economic and political power – the poor, the sick, the outsider, the despised and rejected. The prophets challenge the Kings and wealthy of Israel with neglecting their responsibility because they do not care for the poor. Jesus equates the way people treat “the least of these” with the way they treat him personally. He also calls equal the two greatest commandments – to love God wholly and to love your neighbor as yourself. The vertical relationship with God necessitates the horizontal relationship with humankind.

Christian spirituality is never just individual and personal; it is always also communal and collective. Centripetal faith always becomes centrifugal, and vice versa. A “spiritual” gospel which has no call to social responsibility is self-serving sentimental narcissism. A “social” gospel which has no reverence for the Divine is barren self-justification, prone to burnout.

Biblically speaking, a primary responsibility of the nation is to take care of its entire people. The responsibility of religion is pastorally to model this compassionate social justice and prophetically to call the whole nation to follow.

Social justice is not an occasional theme of Christian faith and scripture; it is the central theme. Though they may not agree on their definitions of righteousness or justice, both progressive and conservative churches believe in the responsibility of the state and the church to be socially engaged in making the world a better place for all people. Without it, the faith becomes a way for the powerful to feel good about themselves while ignoring the exploitation and suffering of the powerless – and their own participation in it.”

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creativity

April 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm (Things I want to see changed) (, , , , , , , )

“The bottom line is that to turn information into strategic action, we need people/groups who are ready to take responsibility for what happens at teh intergroup level of mission, a level at which we can talk beyond reacting to needs and focus on teh factors that create and maintain those needs. It takes a system to intentionally transform a system, and I beleive that is what the church is for 🙂 ”

I have been grappling with the micro/macro split in the church’s approach to social problems and social justice. On the one hand we tend towards taking the moral highground on many issues and become known more for what we are against than for what we are for. So we vehemently oppose prostitution and abortion and gays etc. But we very rarely have viable solutions to the ’problems’ we so readily identify. As a result, the church often ends up taking the back-seat to international aid organisations, government and ’secular’ civil society groups.

On the other hand, where we do attempt reconciliation and to rectify social issues, we often limit our effectiveness by haphazard (albeit well-meaning) and often naive responses. As noted above, we often fail to do our research and find out what is really going on and what the issues at stake are. We go in with small-scale micro-level programmes attacking the symptoms, but very rarely having any effect on the causes and the macro-level systems which are causing, for example, gross human rights violations (human trafficking), HIV/AIDS, poverty, and gender inequality. We are very effective at changing individuals, but less skilled at transforming peoples, groups, societies and culture.We do need to start talking beyond “reacting to needs and focus on the factors that create and maintain those needs…that is what the church is for .”

As an example, South Africa is currently caught in a national debate around the decriminalisation of prostitution. For the most part (and I stand to be corrected), Christian response to this issue has been in the form of well-intentioned letters to the editor or the Commission, or to government, lobbying for prostitution to remain illegal. I too, vehemently oppose the legalisation of prostitution. But in our vociferous responses, and through a severe lack of information and understanding, the church in South Africa has come across as callous and unconcerned. In reality, prostitution in South Africa is very often a series of gross human rights violations (and again, situations do vary so this is a generalisation but highlights some of the issues at stake). Women, often struggling to support families in a context of severe poverty, are raped by clients, picked up by police and raped, locked up in jail overnight and raped, and in the morning released for the process to start again. They have no recourse to the law or any protection. Instead of providing alternative and creative solutions and ’strategies’ to impact this state of affairs, the church has often taken the moral highground in condemning the symptom rather than addressing the system.

I passionately desire to see us step into the FULL CREATIVITY of our Creator God! I desire for strategies that blow the world away. I desire to see the church at the forefront of creative strategy and engagement with the concerns of society. We have a God who is more than able to provide solutions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom, and which transform society, people groups and culture. How to tap into that creativity and those strategies is the question…

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