Friday, October 19, 2007
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote 'The church is the church only when it exists for others.' For him the 'others' were especially 'the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled - in short, those who suffer'. In his Letters and Papers from Prison he writes: 'Our church, which has been fighting only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to... the world.' He continues that our being Christian today will consist of two things: Praying and working for justice. 'All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action.'
*** I learned recently that in my home-state, Victoria, Australia, 7000 young people aged 12 - 24 'sleep rough' every night. A staffworker with the Melbourne City Mission told us that just about all of them come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. Update: in today's press (October 21, 2007) I read this: 'Each night, one in every 200 Australians is said to be homeless.' Tragic!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in’ (Robert Frost).
In a funny/sad episode of The Simpsons Maude Flanders – a devout Christian lady who practised the qualities of ‘faith, chastity, and charity’ attended a Bible Camp to learn how to be more judgmental! That episode was cited in online correspondence with an atheist this week!
Healthy churches are like healthy families. In your family, you had no choice about your siblings: ditto in God’s family. If I had to pick the members of the church I attend, I probably would not have chosen all of them, and I’m sure some of them wouldn't have chosen me! However, the more I get to know them, and hear what God is doing in their lives, the more I’ve come to appreciate them.
Healthy families are united-in-their-diversity. They manage conflict well. Children and teenagers and adults and seniors are all accepted/respected – their differences are celebrated! Healthy families practice open communication, forgiveness, serving one another. They play and laugh and work together.
One of our choruses says ‘We are family, we are one.' But our songs sometimes don’t match reality. Unhealthy families – church and other - are ‘dysfunctional’: they are rigid (with some unbending rules); they don’t have healthy boundaries, or cope with differing ideas, repressing disagreement with the powerful people; they are abusive: some want to exercise inappropriate power over others; they play ‘conspiracies of silence’ games… and so on. (See here for more).
So let’s practise this: ‘As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you... Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful’ (Colossians 3:11-15).
Rev. Dr. Rowland Croucher
John Mark Ministries
Maude Flanders, a character in The Simpsons, was very devout. She had many positive qualities: faith, chastity, charity. Maude once attended a Bible camp to learn how to be more judgmental!
Here are some wise words from a Baptist pastor-friend, Nathan Nettleton: The Church is not called to tolerance, but to hospitality. Mere tolerance is far too gutless.
Jesus did not model or advocate tolerance of the strangers and outcasts. He welcomed them, accepted them, stood in solidarity with them. In a few cases we also have stories of him openly challenging them to change, but it would be pretty hard to find a story where that wasn't premised on the initial welcoming acceptance. More often it seems that he didn't have to voice the challenge at all, but that people began to change in response to experiencing in him, the overwhelming hospitality of God...
John Claypool used to say: 'With Jesus, acceptance preceded repentance, with the Pharisees - ancient and modern - it's the other way around.'
Sunday, October 7, 2007
In his book Blue Like Jazz Don Miller tells the delightful story of how he and his friends dressed like monks and set up a confessional booth on their notoriously heathen college campus. But instead of hearing other people's confessions, they were confessing their sins as Christians and the sins of Christendom to anyone who was willing to listen and forgive.
I think the world would be willing to listen to a church on its knees, a church that doesn't pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers. I think a mystical, sacramental healing can begin within us and extend into the wounds of our world...
Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, p. 251.
Another feature of healthy churches is that their members take seriously the apostle's admonition: '[Give] thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.' (Ephesians 5:20).
A 13-year-old at a formal dinner spills her main course all over her lap: meat, gravy, vegetables - the lot. Later, she recalls this as one of life's darkest moments, overshadowing a hundred good things that happened to her that week... I have an arthritic finger, a legacy of an old football injury: it occupies my attention more than the thousand parts of my body functioning perfectly.
The surrealists have captured this strangeness in their art: a manure heap in the corner of a field will dominate the canvas, obliterating or obscuring the flowers, whereas in the real landscape the manure heap is quite small.
That's why we are invited to give thanks in all things, at all times. In everything! If it wasn't Paul writing those injunctions I could hardly believe them: he knew what hardship and trouble and plans going wrong were all about. And he knew the imperfections of the churches he founded and visited!
In every time of worship we ought to be invited to 'count our blessings'. Thanksgiving is an attitude of life that recognizes that everything is a gift: and all good gifts come from God. It's also an attitude that has to be taught. Complaining comes naturally; children have to learn to be grateful.
Here's a thought I read somewhere: There's a special thing for which you can be thankful - only you and God have all the facts about yourself!
Suggestion: Phone or write/email someone expressing your gratitude for something they are, or have done. Go on... do it!
Prayer: O Lord you have given us so such. Please give us one thing more - a grateful heart. Amen.
More on Gratefulness/Gratitude...