Greater Love

Photographic record of the Shrine of Remembrance, photographer unknownLast night my Literature students and I went to a performance of Shakespeare’s cross dressing comedy, ‘As You Like It’.  It explores love in many of its facets. How and why does it happen?  What does it do to us – for good or bad?  Is it different for men and women?  What external influences are involved? What about our motives? … and there are more uncomfortable questions.

But underlying all of that is the idea that love, romantic and otherwise, is an essential part of the human character. We all want to love and be loved. A life without love is empty and possibly meaningless.

And then this morning at our College’s  ANZAC  service our Senior School Captains spoke on the verse John 15:13  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This is paraphrased in the War Memorial in Melbourne – “Greater love hath no man”.

This verse must be seen in the context of Christ reflecting on his own sacrifice and then suggesting to his disciples that this sacrifice in turn become a model for their lives. Accepting Christ’s love becomes the foundation of our desire to love like he does. Love, here, is a giving of one’s self for others. It puts others first, which is no doubt the reason for its presence in the War Memorial it highlights the Aussie ideal of mateship.

There is nothing amiss with the Bard’s exploration of love. He raises excellent questions and challenges us. However, the answers are not found in his plays, but rather in the gospel. Christ’s love becomes a model for our relations – romantic and otherwise.  Christ’s love doesn’t start with our own private swooning’s, or sexual desires but for the welfare and best outcomes for the other – friend and foe alike.

Shakespeare raises tough questions but Jesus gives us even tougher answers.

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Two Dreams

Our dream life is a mysterious and unfathomable part of the mind.  My wife had two successive dreams that caused me to wonder. I usually find this area of life too ethereal to write about but here are the two dreams as my wife relates them.
Last night I had two dreams. Like Pharaoh, I woke up wondering what they could mean. Where is Joseph when you need him?In the first dream I was at a book fair run by a church and a Bible college. There were many tables laden with theological books. There were also women putting lots of delicious looking baked goods onto other tables. Little children raced around amongst the tables and everything looked ready for business. But there were no customers. One woman expressed her dismay. “We made all this food to encourage people to come.” “But there’s no place for people to sit” I said, “and you’re not offering any coffee or tea.”

In the second dream I was again at a fair. This time it was a toymaker’s. I had heard about it and Pieter agreed to take me there. He dropped me at the door and we arranged a time for him to return. As I stepped into the building, which happened to be an old wooden church, the toymaker himself greeted me. But my attention was completely taken by the sight before my eyes. Handmade toys of every description: felted dolls in gaudy colours, brightly painted wooden vehicles and puppets, metal wind-up toys sparkled on the shelves, and a hundred pretty mobiles hung from the ceiling. “Oh, this is amazing!” I enthused.

Immediately, the toymaker reached up and took down one of the mobiles. It was a nice one, but others had already caught my eye. As I continued to enjoy the fantastic array of toys, the toymaker took the mobile to the counter and began to wrap it. I believed he had made a wrong assumption and I was quick to point this out to him. “No, no,” I said, “I don’t want that!” He didn’t stop straight away, and I had to repeat myself several times. Finally he ceased wrapping. His hands fell at his sides and he looked up at me. There were tears in his eyes and his whole face crumpled with grief. Slowly he turned and walked away.

Some women were also in the shop and they’d seen what happened. One came to me and quietly explained. “The toymaker made every toy in this place,” she said.
“But didn’t he understand that I didn’t want to buy that toy?” I interjected. “I would have bought something else; it’s all beautiful, I would have found something to buy.”
“Buy?” she said. “He was going to give it to you!”

You can imagine my horror to hear this. I needed to find the toymaker and explain my actions. But then Pieter returned and still the toymaker hadn’t reappeared. I had no choice. I left the toy fair empty-handed.

Somehow I think these stories should be prefaced with the words of Jesus – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…….”

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Jesus Unicorn

Today my wife, Hetty, is presenting a guest blog on the topic of children and worship.

Jesus Unicorn

Courtesy Google  images

Courtesy Google images

A young girl was given a notebook and some colouring pencils and pens while she sat in the pew with her family.  After a few weeks, her parents suggested that she listen to the sermon while she drew. By the end of the sermon she had drawn some pictures of a unicorn with the words ‘Jesus Unicorn’ above them.  Her parents were amused.
 
Some questions:
 
  • What did her parents believe children should be doing in a worship service?
  • Did they give her any guidance about what she could do with the writing and drawing materials?
  • What was the underlying message the child got concerning how she should behave in the worship service and from her parents’ subsequent suggestion?
 
Some ideas:
 
If you were her parents, how might you encourage her to participate in the worship service?
How would you begin a discussion with this child about ‘Jesus Unicorn’ which could lead her to a fuller experience of worship?
 
Paper and pencils are fine to keep a child’s hands busy, to keep a child quiet, and even as a stepping stone to taking notes of the sermon but it should never stop there.
Children can draw the stories they hear (and they should be hearing God’s stories, not just theological concepts) or their feelings. There should be a clear understanding of when they can draw/write and when they should be participating in the singing, praying, etc.  Parents should follow up with the child later. It may help if the parents also occasionally used paper and pencils during the sermon, and the family shared their pictures afterwards.
 
A warning:
 
Be careful not to let this become another kind of ‘school’ activity.
Help the child to use the writing and drawing, as well as the words they’re hearing and the images they’re seeing, as a way to explore their understanding of God, and the worship of Him.
 
 
Hetty Stok
Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Some People Get It!

photo 4

Excited by the view

It was a rainy day yesterday as we were walking around the Port of Echuca.  It is the home of the largest collection of working paddle steamers in the world. Daily they paddle up and down the Murray river. At one point along the dock you can walk onto a section that looks out over the river. There is a protective fence where the designers have simply, but cleverly, placed glass panels at “little children” height so that they can look out too.  We were there as two small boys, fresh from jumping in puddles, saw these windows, raced up, looked out, and were thrilled by the sights.

If only churches could see this wonderful metaphor. Too often in worship the fences are that high that only the adults can “see” or experience what is going on. For children the service is an hour and 30 minutes of tedium, or they are sent out to “jump in a few puddles” while the adults do the real thing.

Too many churches, in my experience, either ignore the fact that there are children in church or send them out to be entertained elsewhere. There are no “windows” to enable them to participate and adults are often unable or uwilling to hold them up to see over the fence. So the implied message children receive is that there is nothing here for you. In other words, the view, or real worship, is essentially for adults only.

Children are people of God too. Children are called by Jesus as well. Children are in fact a model for us to follow. “Unless you become like one of these …” Too often however, children are left behind a windowless fence and not included and left out of the worship dialogue altogether.  They are not given a position from where they can be part of, experience and participate in the worship of the whole family of God.

Picture 011

The Port of Echuca on a sunnier day with some of its paddle steamers.

What can we do to give children kid high windows from which, they too, can be part of the worship by the people of God? What can we do as worshipping communities to reduce the walls which prevent children from being part of the singing, listening, praying, reading. giving and hearing that is our dialogue with God on a Sunday?

Churches are losing young people in droves.  What are we doing to make worship an unmissable part of their lives?  One part of the answer is to ensure that the child’s place in the community of worshippers is real and appreciated as well as age appropriate – that they can see through the fences. This does not mean that the worship service needs to be “dumbed down”, but it does mean that the worshipping community needs to think of genuine ways in which children, in fact all ages, have a meaningful encounter with their God when the community gathers for public worship.

I would even suggest that if we as adults are more intentional about including children, that is, giving them “windows” and holding them up, that we too will be enriched by the process. Moreover, and most importantly, God will be honoured and worshipped with greater integrity, as all His children gather before Him.

Categories: Child Theology, Children | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Confused World

I have been watching with concern and bemusement the attempts of our government to halt the execution of two Australians in Indonesia.  My hope and prayer is that they succeed even though this seems very unlikely.  However, this situation highlights the inconsistency of our society.  While huge efforts are being put into saving these two, thousands of unborn children are murdered every year without the legal challenges and TV and newspaper headlines.  The moral outrage at killing two Australians doesn’t match our government’s efforts with asylum seekers in detention.

The 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” is a declaration of the importance and value of life. It reminds us that humanity was created in God’s image.  In the words of John Donne, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” Human life is precious but governments and corporations have devalued them to “economic units”.  Movie producers and and game designers have made death a form of entertainment.  Even religions murder others to advance and justify their beliefs. Worse still, we have come to believe many of the corrupted messages that swirl around us today. In my naive and simple way I believe it is time to reclaim two truths: 1. Humanity was made in the image of God (a huge discussion just by itself!) and because of that, 2. Human life is precious. If we believed that passionately it would change the tenor of our discussions and behaviours.  Our view of others would begin to change and our view of ourselves would change.

As a Christian I understand that only the Holy Spirit changes hearts but we have a challenge and responsibility to remind ourselves and the world what a gift life is.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, community, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Certainty in Uncertainty

After having written about my growing uncertainty about previously held facts and truths, my wife, as is her habit, challenged me to reflect further.  From a Christian perspective what is the value of this uncertainty?  Does it aid the Christian walk?  Does it help us grow?

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We can feel as though we are  tossed about but that need not be the reality

This made me think and ponder even further.  As I stated previously, uncertainty hasn’t weakened or unsettled my faith.  The reality is that it drives me more into “the arms” of God.  It makes me more reliant on Him and increasingly highlights my own inability to know or understand all things.  There is a subtle (or maybe not that subtle) message in our rationalistic age that says we can know and discover all things.  But the old adage is true, “The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.”  Personally I have discovered this to be true and I am at peace with this because I know my Creator.

One more point: I remember years ago a friend was given a chart by his brother of sins and virtues and my friend’s brother was ticking off those virtues he had achieved and those sins he had conquered.  I have found reality to be far different.  The older I have become the more I have discovered that things need to be added to the “sin list”. My heart’s deceptiveness has shown itself more devious than I imagined as a 25 year old.  And my virtues maybe not as virtuous as I thought.  I remember when (a long time ago) for a moment I was quite proud of my humility until the irony of that hit me like a Mack truck.

This again drives me into the arms of a the God who loves me despite my foolish mind games and my uncertainty.

There is certainty but it lies far, far away from me.

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Uncertainty

As I was sanding down an old cot this morning, in preparation for our first grandchild, my mind started to wander.  Afterall, sanding is boring. I reflected on the fact that the older I have become, the less certain I DSC_0432am of many things.

Views that I had held solidly in the past, now, were not as concrete as I thought.  I hasten to add that my faith, belief in God and Scripture are not among these uncertainties although interpretations of some key ideas are.  Some of these uncertainties may include interpretations of Scripture, but others are social and environmental. I was very conservative when I was younger but now I realise that I am on the left of many of my friends. Subtly and imperceptibly I have shifted over time.

I can think of a host of examples where my thinking has changed or mellowed. Whereas once I was a staunch supporter of the 6 twentyfour hour day version of creation – now I see many more (Biblical) possibilities. The role of women in church, the environment, my political views are just some more examples of where my black and whiteness has morphed into something far less concrete and certain.

Being certain has a comfortableness about it. I miss that. In many areas of life I can no longer say with unwavering confidence, “This is the truth and if you don’t believe it, you must be wrong.” You may have a point after all (Michael).

As I was sanding down the frame I wondered why this had happened.  Is it that the realities of life have washed over me?  Is it that now I see some many more complexities though simple experience?

I came to another conclusion although the above might also be true. I think it is mainly that my God is far bigger and more majestic than I ever imagined  60 or even 30 years ago.  The God of Scripture, the universe and life itself has a complexity and omnipotence that cowers my certainty.  His Word has a depth in which I often feel out of my own depth! My brothers in the past said with utmost certainty and conviction that the world was flat and at the centre of the universe.  What do I say now which must cause God to laugh at my puniness and ridiculousness?

That is why I am more uncertain than ever before – and in a way – I am content to be so.

 

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Carols of Contrast

When I heard Christina Rossetti’s carol for the first time I became intrigued by the idea of how climate affects the carols written within a culture. I have contrasted this with an Australian carol by John Wheeler.  They also explain why barbecues are popular during Christmastime in Australia and not in the UK.

The North Wind is Tossing the Leaves

John Wheeler

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Wombat State Forest

1.
The North Wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town,
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.
2.
The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by;
The joy bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.

 

In the Bleak Midwinter

Christina Rossetti
1.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Dorchester near Henley on Thames

Dorchester near Henley on Thames

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
 2.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
 3.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
 4.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
 5.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

 

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Advent Poems

The following poem by T.S. Eliot is thought to be a reflection on his own journey towards faith.

The Journey Of The Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,DSC_0003crop
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot

(The Lion Christian Poetry Collection)

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Reports, Graduations and Thanksgiving

It is that time of year again.  The general populace is thinking of Christmas but teachers are busily finishing off reports and reflecting on creative ways of telling the truth without engendering the wrath of protective parents.  Do I write, “Johnny is an enthusiastic student whose energy knows no bounds” or “Johnny is uncontrollable and has no sense or discipline or self-control”?  Do I write, “Mary is unmotivated“ or “Mary reflects all the sloth of her parents”?  Um, I wonder?

Before the report writing there was the marking.   Exams, essays and other pieces that would provide evidence for the reports, all had to be assessed.  Writing and meaning had to be deciphered.  By this stage of the year the shoulders are hunched, the eyes bleary and the footstep slow.

The Thanksgiving and Graduation evening is special.  Students who have worked hard and achieved highly are acknowledged.  My favourite awards are for students who have worked hard and progressed but have not necessarily achieved high marks but need to be encouraged for their effort.  Also students graduate from one section of the school and move to the next and the Year 12 students are acknowledged as they leave the College.  This year, after being, homeroom teacher to the same group of students for the last three years I have that nagging parental conflict of hope and fear, and excitement and trepidation as another group of Year 12 students step out into the next stage of their lives.  May God go before them.

And then, next year, I can start all over again …

Categories: christian education, Education | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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