Friday, May 30, 2008

A Spacious God

The ‘politics of love’ as commented on by Malcolm brought to mind the visit to NZ of the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama and one of his sermons entitled ‘A spacious God’.

In the revelation of God in Jesus Christ there is something wonderfully universal and we celebrate the coming of the gospel for the ‘whosoever will may come’. How many of us remember the Sunday School song, ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the children of the world’.
The creative activity of God gave rise to all the great civilizations of the past, all the diverse cultures and all the infinite variety, colour and ethnicities of all the remarkable peoples of the world.

The concept of a ‘spacious God’ is wonderfully appealing as it embraces the truth that there is room for all including every species. In contrast the concept of a ‘narrow God’ is alive and well as the history book and in current attitudes referred to by Malcolm. This spaciousness and expansiveness is a statement of the sovereign nature of God, sovereign in human affairs, ecology and cosmology with the proviso that we have been given free will and choice to cooperate with the great purposes of life or not.

Spaciousness associates with it the idea of transcendence and how sorely we need this personally and collectively in a world of growing religious intolerance.
If we know a ‘spacious God’ then we’ll have a ‘spacious mind’. Again the reverse is true. If we have a ‘non spacious God’ then our mind will become ‘not spacious’.
The reality is we become like the God we believe in and if narrow then there can be devastating consequences. The history of religion is full of the terrible evidence of inquisitions, genocides, ethnic cleansings, colonialism, racism, ecological rape and so on. On the individual level we see it in elitism, prejudice and bigotry. How vitally important are our images and beliefs about God.

Please God help us to have a ‘spacious mind’ in which we can honestly reflect on our religious behaviours.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Politics of Love

I have to confess I'm a little ticked off today.
I heard something disturbing on Radio Rhema, something that echoes of the "politics of hate" that is presently lurking in our communities/nations. A community in Australia (though it could be anywhere) has lobbied its Local Council to stop the development of a Mosque and Islamic School. The thing that disturbs me is the short sound-byte Radio Rhema chose to play. Someone who claimed to be a 'Christian' said that 'there is no place for Muslims in Australia, that our nation' has emerged 'from Christian Anglo Saxon values.' (A large chunk of history has been conveniently forgotten, hasn't it?). I'm sick and tired of how Christianity is continually equated with fears of difference and practices of exclusion. Is that what the Christian faith means to you: "God loves me, people like me, and to hell with everyone else." Is that how you imagine Jesus? Is that the Jesus we present to our neighbours? Can't we coexist/dialogue/interact/live with others without making "them" into "targets" of our evangelical campaigns or "threats" of our faith-less and imperialistic insecurities? Seriously. The failure to grapple with difference, identity, our failure in embracing otherness is literally killing people today in Afghanistan, Congo, Kathmandu, Iraq, Myanmar, Laos, Israel, Palestine, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, South Africa, its literally tearing our planet into pieces. Look at these comments from the Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf and then from the Asian theology of C.S. Song:

"Various kinds of cultural 'cleansings' demand of us to place identity and otherness at the center of theological reflection on social realities... It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference. The issue is urgent. The ghettos and battlefields throughout the world - in the living rooms, in inner cities, or on the mountain ranges - testify indisputably to its importance."
Miroslav Volf, 1996, Exclusion and Embrace.

"One of the most important things Jesus did, it seems to me, was to free His disciples from fear of their context and to make them realize its revelatory significance. He helps them see the world as God sees it and not through the taboos their religion has imposed on them... This is what Jesus tries to help His disciples do: keep their eyes and ears open. For in even the most mundane things there are extramundane messages..."
C.S. Song, 1984, Tell Us our Names: Story Theology From An Asian Perspective.

Sorry if this is a little "down", but honestly, shouldn't a faith that claims loudly "God is love" actually show a little of His love?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commuting or Community Churches?

There is a crazy, dangerous, even insane conversation circulating in cyberspace at the moment that I think demands our energies now. A conversation that even the Budgetary promises of political Tax Cuts cannot fix. It goes like this: the epoch-making increases in the cost of oil, the hiking of petrol prices at the pump, and the subsequent pinch felt with food prices at the supermarket, is forcing people in the West to consider commuting less. There is nothing cuckoo or new in that someone scoffs. True. The loopier, newer, and more scandalous thinking only starts to emerge when we honestly look at the potential impact of commuting less on our commuter-centric churches and the commuter-centric dispensaries of our social services. What if people cannot get to church? What if people cannot make it to our centralized sites of professionalized help? What if we got to a point where we only went where we could walk? What could that mean for how we practice church? What would social justice look like in that context? Who is this going to impact on the most? The haves or the have-nots? Would our churches be big enough, humble enough to include and learn from people of different denominations? Would we be big enough, teachable enough to stop commuting to church, to stop passing the churches we could walk to within our own neighborhoods, even if that means we wander into and worship in churches of different denominations? Would our churches change drastically if they were truly community-centric and not commuter-centric? The emerging generation has started to grapple with these issues and just last Sunday night we had someone who intentionally strolled on foot to our church simply because we were physically closer and we were in that sense more economical than hopping in the car and commuting to a preferred church in a distant neighborhood. Imagine if that happened every Sunday in every neighborhood? See why it is a potentially scandalous conversation?

Look at this from a blog cited at empireremixed:
“The point is that very, very soon a huge number of existing churches will find themselves in the position where the economic model out of which the church has functioned is no longer viable...

We have to ask how we sustain experiments in moving back into the neighborhood. We have to start working on genuine conversations across congregations, house churches and with many who have simply given up on the church, in order to discern the things the Spirit is saying to us about the shape of Christian life in the West...”

There is hope. A scandalous hope, if we dare. The pinch of the spiraling petrol prices could be a disguised blessing that forces Christians in the West to re-examine the significance of the incarnation (John 1.14 - the story of God clothing Himself in flesh, with feet, and moving into and through the neighborhood on foot, and occasionally on a donkey), and could lead to a eco-friendlier and newer re-imagining of how we practice church in our communities. The skyrocketing cost of living could mean that Christians in the West have to forgo some of our dependence on centralized professional care-ministries, that we have to learn how to be good neighbours in our own neighbourhoods, that we learn how to practice the claims of justice exactly where we’re at.

Look at this from Shane Claiborne:
“When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The Church becomes a distribution centre, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed. And Jesus did not set up a programme but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven just as we forgive our debtors. That reign did not spread through (commuting to church or) organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread like disease - through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love.”
Shane Claiborne, 2006, The Irresistible Revolution.

The early church of Acts simply met everyday in the houses of neighbours. Is that past our future? There is no doubt in my mind that with a future of spiraling oil prices, and a future marked by neighbourliness and walkability, there is something truly futuristic/prophetic in the past counter-claim of Jesus: “the poor will always be with you.”
See why?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stop the Traffik Chocolate campaign update

On 10th October 2007, major global players in the food industry initiated a programme for a more sustainable cocoa supply chain in the Ivory Coast, to improve social and environmental practices. This is a key decision that could lead to ending the trafficking of children into slavery on cocoa farms.
One of these global players is Cargill, an international provider of food and other products and services in 66 countries, and a major buyer and processor of cocoa beans from Ivory Coast. (This could affect many of the chocolate products that you buy in your supermarket)
At the beginning of 2008, a draft farm level certification code will be tested in pilot projects in Ivory Coast. Local stakeholders including farmers, charities, government bodies, and others will be involved in its development. By the end of 2008, the first independent certifiers will have been trained and the final code will be implemented. Throughout 2009, the project will certify the first 10,000 farmers in Ivory Coast, and pilot projects will be carried out in other producing countries to customise the programme to their specific circumstances.
This is a first step … and STOP THE TRAFFIK welcomes this new initiative by Cargill and calls to see this become a reality.
It is critical we keep pressure up on this issue. We are making a difference. We will not stop until the trafficking has been STOPPED. for more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Revisiting our invitation lists!

To practice hospitality in our world, it may be necessary to evaluate all the laws and all the promotions and all the invitation lists of corporate and political society from the point of view of the people who never make the lists. Then hospitality may demand that we work to change things.

Joan Chittister

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just Prayers?

The act of  "saying grace" at our tables is a deeply political and subversive practice. It counters and subverts the thought that we're in control, that the Reserve Bank or the market economy determines what we have, that the escalating glocal oil prices dictate what is possible, that the planet revolves solely around us.  The "giving of thanks", the practice of prayer, fuels our counter-imaginations of life and moves you and me into our proper place: open to otherness, surprisable, teachable and trusting.  

I invite you to drop your clenched fists, lower the placards, close your mouth, lift your fingers off the keyboard, stop trying to "save the planet" for a moment, simply sit still, and slowly pray this prayer with me.

"Deliver me, O Jesus:
 From the desire of being esteemed
 From the desire of being loved
 From the desire of being honored
 From the desire of being praised
 From the desire of being preferred to others
 From the desire of being consulted
 From the desire of being approved
 From the desire of being popular.
 Deliver me, O Jesus:
 From the fear of being humiliated
 From the fear of being despised
 From the fear of being rebuked
 From the fear of being slandered
 From the fear of being forgotten
 From the fear of being wronged
 From the fear of being treated unfairly
 From the fear of being suspected

 And, Jesus, grant me the grace
 To desire that others might be more loved than I
 That others might be more esteemed than I
 That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease
 That others may be chosen and I set aside
 That others may be preferred to me in everything
 That others may become holier than I, provided that I, too, become as holy as I can."

 (Mother Theresa, A Simple Path)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thank You for Giving Us Back Our Son

A few years ago Nicola's 13 year old daughter was killed in a car accident by two teenage boys, acquaintances of her daughter's, who had stolen the car.

Nicola decided to put her faith into action while trying to deal with the pain of her loss --- by reaching out to the family of the boy who was the driver, and was facing serious criminal charges.

Nicola visited the mother of the driver numerous times. Over the simple act of coffee and conversation they became friends. They attended the family group conferences together, where Nicola and her husband pleaded with the justice system for the boys not to be sent to jail. Nicola knew about jail, and the effect it would probably have on the boy, because her brother has been in and out of prison all his adult life.

Later Nicola was contacted by the local prison and asked to visit the father of the boy. This man was a member of a notorious gang, but had asked specifically for Nicola to come see him. She put herself in God's hands and visited. The father told her how for a month he had been crying in his cell because of the love she had shown --- "thank you for giving us back our son". He knew the life his son would almost inevitably fall into if he had been sent to jail (he wasn't). It is now a couple of years since the father was released from prison, and he has been not gone back in. A remarkable turn around as he also has spent his adult life in and out of prison.

Nicola tells me she didn't initially feel love for the boy, or his mother, or the father - but felt compelled by her faith to reach out to them. She first acted on that compulsion, and then the feelings of love came.

I met Nicola at a training session for volunteer prison visitors. Nicola was doing her annual renewal, but for me it was my first.

I have no visions of grandeur as I set out on prison visitation ministry. I don't think I'll be saving the world - but how incredible would it be to impact someone's life like Nicola did? Simply by treating them with dignity. They need to accept the reality of their actions, and the consequences they face, but if we as a society do not reach out to them we will all be the poorer for it.

Matthew 24:35-36 (NLT): "For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."

I have changed some elements of Nicola's story, including her name, to protect her privacy - but the essence of the story is as she told it to me.

This article has also been cross-posted on my personal blog at

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hostility or Hospitality

I like very much Malcolm’s challenge to find a new expression of being God’s people by the offer of hospitality. Hospitality is a fundamental expression of the Gospel.
It is important to find new words and ways in which Christ’s love can be shown. Hospitality is such a word. It speaks of invitation, unconditional acceptance and pre-supposes a commitment to inclusiveness.
Remember the words from Isaiah, “ Come everyone who is thirsty, come, you that have no money, come buy wine and milk . . and you’ll enjoy the best food of all.”

Albert Einstein said that all philosophical and scientific inquiry could be boiled down to one simple question: “Is the universe a friendly place?” Our answer to that question determines whether we live with hostility of hospitality the juxtaposition of which is beautifully addressed by Henri Nouwen.

He argues that the God we know in Christ coverts our hostility into hospitality. Because of our estrangement from God we end up living in fear and insecurity and fearing God’s punishment. If we believe we are deserving of punishment we cannot love ourselves, and if we can’t love ourselves we can’t love our neighbour. The evidence of this is our fearful, defensive, aggressive behaviours and how we anxiously cling to our property and look at the surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to appear and treating strangers as though they are enemies.

Our heart might desire to help others, to feed the hungry, to visit the prisoner and offer shelter to the traveler, but meanwhile we have surrounded ourselves with a wall of fear and hostile feelings, instinctively avoiding people and places that might remind us of our good intentions.

Now all this is in marked contrast to the obligation that is ours as Christians. We know God to be loving. We know Christ who came to seek and save the lost. We know that God invites us into fellowship. Our fear has been dealt to. We live therefore as agents of God’s inviting love. It is our vocation to offer hospitality, to convert the enemy into a guest and to create a free and fearless place where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.
God’s hospitality is illustrated in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. “Go out into the highways & the byways and bring back the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”
May it be so

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Gospel According to Coca Cola

The deafening noise of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is “who can I eat with”?
Simply stated: can I eat with you if you’re not circumcised? can I invite you into my house and share a table with you if you’re different from me, if you’re not like me? what is the distinguishing marker of a “follower of Jesus”? what/who defines/determines what/who is “in” and what/who is “not”? Emotionally and politically charged issues that differentiated, divided and kept “different” peoples marginalized, powerless and separate.
See how?
Something new is emerging in the Christian households of Galatia. There is a contrasting and disturbingly fresh practice of “dissimilar” peoples eating at the same table. The former divisions of ethnicity, race, religion, and socio-economic status weren’t working anymore; there is a newer humanity materializing and it started with the sharing of a meal.
See that?
Today, where the defining/dominating motifs of our own communities/nations seem to be defensiveness, fear, hostility, suspicion, and tribalism, the hopeful and liberating experience of the Galatians is even more important.
See why?
Eyes on these thoughts from N. T. Wright:
"The world is full of evidence for Paul’s warning: “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not destroyed by each other” (5:15). It will not do simply to say that into this world must be spoken the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel Paul articulates and defends in Galatians. This is of course true, but what will it say to the Serb and the Croat, to the Tutsi and the Hutu, to the Palestinian and the Israeli? Will it simply say, If only you would all believe in Jesus, none of this would be necessary? (If it did, it might find further problems: the Serb and the Croat, the Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland, all in theory believe in Jesus; and to modify the statement to say “if only you would believe in Jesus the same way I do” would stand revealed as a new sort of tribalism.) The most powerful statement it can make must be made symbolically, through the coming together in a single worshiping family, eating at the same table, of all those who belong to Jesus the Messiah, despite their apparently irreconcilable racial, tribal, or other tensions. That is the powerful message of Galatians...”
(N.T. Wright, 2000, The Letter to the Galatians, emphasis mine).

Seeing some connections? Sensing some of the healing power of hospitality? Sensing some of the transformation that happens when we intentionally make space for others?
The global corporation of Coca Cola has certainly caught hold of its potential and in its latest spin, they shamelessly tap into the promise of sharing our tables.
Look at this clip:

There is something of the imagination and inspiration of Galatians in this, isn’t there? Who is coming to your house for dinner this week? Who can you make space for? Who can you share a table with? It could be the start of something new; it could even be the start of a newer humanity in your own neighborhood.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Talking of Lighting a Candle

Robbie Deans (coach of the mighty Crusaders) said at the Sally Red Shield breakfast launch on Wednesday the person who had most influenced him in his treatment of the young men players in the Crusaders was Bob Millar (a Christchurch Salvation Army officer who died a couple of weeks ago). On Thursday the Wellington City Council planted a tree and put a park bench in Glover Park in Wellington to mark the influence of Peter Thorp (another Sally officer who died last year) on the city and people of Wellington. In addition the City Council turned on the Cross on Mount Victoria on the anniversary of Peter's death

Why were these two so influential. In my view simply because they made a life/faith connect. They both loved being with people of all types. They didn't do that in a preachy or religious way just a human connected way. As people met, talked and socialised with them both the power of their faith influenced lives.

It is not our words but the quality of our living that changes the world

Friday, May 2, 2008

Let's light a candle

Do I detect some pessimism in Malcolm Irwin's evolutionary conclusion?

Hope is a gospel value that humankind can never extinguish. In South Africa, prior to out lawing apartheid black citizens would light a candle and place it in the window as a sign of hope, a sign and conviction that one day this evil would be overcome. The then Government moved to declare this action of lighting a candle illegal which even became a joke among the children who would badger the police with "Our Government is scared of light a candle".
History would eventually show that the demise of apartheid was at least in part due to 'lit candles' (which the Government wisely feared) and were very much more powerful than guns.

In the struggle for justice and peace our true weapons are certainly not the equipment of warfare, nor just human devising but the lit candles of hope based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember those telling words of Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" declares the Lord (55.8) and Zachariah 4.6 "Not by might nor by power, but my Spirt" says the Lord Almighty.
It has been said, 'It is better to light one candle than to sit in the darkness'. Let's light candles of hope because - The Light - is stronger than the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn.1.5)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Myth of Progress: what now?

Scarey excerpts from Ronald Wright (2004), A Short History of Progress:

"From the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly three million years; from the first iron to the hydrogen bomb took only 3,000 years... 

Violence is bred by injustice, poverty, inequality and other violence.  This lesson was learnt very painfully in the first half of the twenthieth century, at a cost of 80 million lives.  Of course, a full belly and a fair hearing won't stop a fanatic; but they can greatly reduce the number who become fanatics... 

The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years... these years may be the last when civilization still has the wealth and political cohesion to steer itself towards caution, conservation and social justice... the 10,000-year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do now."

It is a heavy and poignant thought, eh: what's next?  what now? who is going to dream, imagine and fight for something fairer, something newer?