Migrant Memories

It was more than 60 years ago that I arrived in Australia as a three and a half year old with my parents. My family were escaping from the shortage of jobs and accommodation and were looking for new opportunities. They said goodbye to a cramped attic but also to family – many of whom we would never see again.

It is now 2016 and I am meeting a new set of migrants through a course that I am doing in ESL teaching. The nationalities may be different but many of the stories are the same.  War, a lack of work and a desire for a future  are pushing people to explore new opportunities.

One man, we will call him Ahmed, had to wait for many years until his wife and children could join him. His excitement was uncontainable when they arrived. His eyes glistening with tears of joy and his undimmable smile said it all and more. There is a lady who never had an opportunity for schooling in her own country who is now, as a middle aged woman, exploring education for the first time. The going is tough but she is strong.

For the teacher the going is also tough too. The increments in learning are not big steps but usually small victories. There are the ‘aha’ moments. “Ah! That is what ‘opposite’ means!” There are the struggles with English words  that have multiple meanings. When given instructions “to go past,” verb tenses (yesterday) and assessments (passed) came to mind before the idea of moving from one place to another past the one in the middle.

Language is a means by which we can understand and love our neighbour. What a wonderful gift this is which we can give those fleeing danger and come here and must grapple with a new culture.

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Fish Selling and the Glory of God

A thought from a few years ago that I rediscovered while doing a search on the internet

Travels from Ur

This morning I was listening to excerpts from St Matthew’s Passion by Bach. “Kommt ihr Tochter” (Come ye Daughters). It is a glorious piece of music reflecting on the punishment that the innocent Christ received on our behalf. As with all his music, Bach wrote this for the glory of God. But to do something to the glory of God doesn’t mean it has to be spectacular.

Calvin Seerveld, in his little pamphlet “Christian Workers Unite” speaks of his father as a “seller of fish”. Seerveld describes the haggling over price, the dressing, gutting and cleaning of fish, taking the fish scraps to the dump – he describes, what for most of us, would seem a dirty and unsavoury job. He concludes this anecdote:

Scandinavia (44)My brothers and I at work in the dumps, laughing and struggling, happy to be bodily alive there too: it is like a little hallelujah chorus…

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The Prophetic Imagination 

I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it.  His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion.  I found his writing style difficult.  Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.

Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and  self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.

Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward.  The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt.  The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.

Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me.  Because we live in a culture of death at present and we,  like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility.  The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly.  Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.

This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe.  His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.

Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.

Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover,  you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.

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Burying Our Children

The following is a challenging and uncomfortable reflection from my wife.



Burying our children?
What if the talents of Matthew 25 were the children in our churches? What if the servants were the adults, and the elders?

How would the parable look in your church? How would it end?
How many children has your congregation been given?

Does it matter how large or small the original number is? Did the master give the greatest number of talents to the best businessman?
Some churches have very few children or even none at all. Did they bury them a long time ago?

Some churches have children who might as well be buried. There is no sign of them in the liturgy or the worship place. There are no signs that they may occasionally be present, no expectation that some children might appear one day. (That reminds me of a church service we attended with our kids while on holidays. Ours were the only kids in the church and the preacher could not have known that we would be coming, but he had a children’s talk ready.) 
Our services are designed for those aged 20 to 60 years old, of average intelligence, good at listening, reading and singing. (As opposed to being good at looking, watching, drawing, wriggling, dancing, jumping or running.)

  

We conveniently don’t see the rest. We have buried them.
The Master gave children to churches. He expects to get a return on his investment. What does that return look like? 

What will it take to make the investment grow?

How exciting it will be when the Master returns to find his talents have grown a hundredfold!

Categories: Child Theology, Children, Church | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Has Jesus left the Church?

I have deliberately made the title vague. It can be taken in a number of ways.

I have just been observing the lead up to Christmas and Christmas itself in Europe. In some places like Seville there was a Christmas market which only sold items for nativity sets. In another few markets I could have bought gloves, scarves and solar panels to do me for a few lifetimes. There has been a mixture of the sacred and secular. All in all, the secular wins.

But Christmas is only a microcosm of society’s attitude to faith and religion in general. So little of the Christ of Christmas remains but that is true of life in general.

So has Christ left the church, in the sense that even the church has left the Christ of Christmas tucked away in some small corner? We sing the carols, attend church for the one time in the year but they are empty tokens. How many sermons were preached this Christmas that declared a radical Christ who introduced a new kingdom through his own death and resurrection? How many sermons declared Christ’s own words, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” That politically incorrect statement comes from the Messiah and is unpopular in many churches today. The cute baby in in a feed trough is easier to speak about and certainly less confronting.

But there is an even scarier perspective. Christ withdrawing himself, not unlike the Shekinah leaving the temple in Ezekiel. Christ leaving because the people who bear his name do do so thoughtlessly. I know he says in Matt 28 that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age but that was on the basis of their continued faith (not perfection).

The radical Christ, the counter cultural Christ, the Christ of a new and everlasting kingdom, the Christ who purchased the lives of his people on the cross and is now preparing a place in eternity for them, the Christ who dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit, the Christ who fought injustice and prejudice, the Christ who tells us that this life is only a brief pilgrimage … He is so hard to find in many churches and many western lives. Alas in my own life.

Has Jesus left the church? Only if we, his representatives on earth, have left him. In our syncretititic and politically correct age we need need to have the courage of the one who gave us his name to stand up to the culture and attitudes of our age and reveal how amazing his message really is. This Christmas have we been overawed and amazed that God became one of us because He loved us so much? Have we been humbled by his claim on our lives? Are we rejoicing in the revelation of His kingdom?

 

A nativity scene in a side chapel at Caen Cathedral

  

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A Boy, a Camera and a Church

The following is an observation by my wife: 

 There he was, a boy of 5 or 6 years, standing alone in front of the altar. He danced a little, twisting this way and that, and then he stood perfectly still and raised the camera to his eyes and snapped. His parents quietly moved around the cathedral as the dozens of other visitors were doing. They must have been watching him, but they never interfered with his discoveries and his picture taking.
The cathedral was nothing but the usual Spanish Catholic variety; we had seen many like it. But it was new for this lad and whatever his eye saw was quickly recorded with his camera. The altar table, the decorative railings, the statues, the windows, the tourists.
I wondered and pondered on this for a while. 
A child discovering the church in his own way. 

A child finding the gospel in a language he knows and understands.

A child making memories and questions.

Parents letting go of their child enough to facilitate this.

A church full of images and symbols and furniture to capture a child.

A camera. Technology that a child can use.
How can we – parents, and faith communities – symbolically give our children a camera in the church?

What does it take to open their eyes and hearts to the Gospel?
  

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian | Tags: , | 3 Comments

The Tragedy of Christmas

We have been watching the build up to Christmas in Europe. Our first sighting, apart from the supermarkets, came in Seville in Spain where there were stalls selling items for your own individual nativity scene, not just with the usual characters but a whole host of buildings, bridges, windmills, wells and etc. The Christmas markets in Northern Europe have been more intent on selling stuff – socks to solar panels.
The same sound track seems to play in all the malls. Riding together in with sleigh bells and ” Santa Baby”. The U.K. has an added history of awful Christmas hits that must played.
Christmas cards and tree ornaments have appeared, then the trees arrived and now the prices are being reduced as we get closer to the day. In Holland the Oliebollen kraams appear and my heart flutters. Even the boats in Harlingen are festooned with lights.
In the midst of the Santas, reindeers and fake snow we have observed some beautiful nativity scenes. One cathedral had set aside a side chapel and created a beautiful life sized nativity. The Notre Dame in Paris has a strange tall well lit model building with the Holy family in the middle. What it signified remains a total mystery to me. In Dordrecht there was a confused looking “Mary” wandering about a pen of animals holding a baby in a “this Christmas market is taking far too long” manner.
If I arrived from outer space knowing little about planet earth what impression would I get? I would be in no doubt about it being holiday, food and family time. However, the idea that Christians were celebrating the incarnation of their God who would die on the cross to restore His people with their eternal father is lost in the dross. I like food and holidays and even family, but the tragedy is that the heart of the season is missing. I may be mistaken but it seems that every year a bit more of the heart goes missing.

   
 

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Hope In The Valley of Madness

If you have any grasp of history one cannot but be sobered by driving through the Somme Valley. The list of military cemeteries, some large, some small, is horrific. Each grave in each cemetery is a testament to lost dreams, lost potential and human foolishness.
In one small town, Villers-Bretonneux, there is an example of hope persevering over madness. When soldiers returned after the Great War they instigated an appeal from the children in Victorian schools to rebuild the school in Villers-Bretonneux. It took a while but a school was finally built in 1927. Their contribution is not forgotten. A big sign in the school states “Do not forget Australia”. The town has many references to Victoria and Australia: The “La Melbourne Cafe”, the twinning of towns with Robinvale are just two. Even Melbourne and Victoria are both street names. The local WW1 museum has large photos of Victorian icons.
In this valley of madness there is a small declaration of the better aspects of humanity. It was good to see the children playing in the school yard. Let us pray that there is no Somme Valley for them.

  

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Some days are diamonds, some days are coal

Over the years we have had a remarkable run of safe travel. There have been the odd “hairy” moments in traffic and the nights when we haven’t arrived at our accommodation. There was an occasion when our plane was just about to land, and when it was a few metres off the ground it suddenly lurched back into the air under full thrust. We learnt after the German and French explanations that there was another plane on the runway. And there have been times when being together for 24 hours a day was just a fewhours too many.
So having our car broken into and, we estimate, $3000 of camera equipment, presents and souvenirs stolen plus the car damaged, was quite a shock. It occurred in a village that even many of locals hadn’t heard of!
It is true that we are in one piece and the items are relatively unimportant. However I have watched my wife carefully search for things for members of the family and friends – something just right for them. She carefully and lovingly packs them so that they can withstand travel. My camera equipment is easy to replace although not the photos on the cards, but the items purchased in diverse places are impossible to re-collect. That hurts.
The police were great but we pressed this good will. Initially we thought it was a snatch and grab raid on the camera bag, however it was only later that we discovered two other backpacks missing and we had to return to the police station. Their English and our French did not make for an easy conversation. We needed their certificates for the car and our insurance because the receipts were in one of the bags stolen. So we had to persevere.
I have mentioned previously how at moments like that I have learned about myself and my wife. My wife is amazing. She was hurt and teary but straight away went into “this is what we have to next mode” as well as forbidding me to drive for a while because I was seething and anger and I do not mix well. It took me a sleepless and prayerful night to get over that. (I was allowed to drive us back to the campsite but I was watched and monitored like a high security prisoner.)
Each day we pray and each day we are made to realise that we have a God who does care for us – even down to the hairs on our head. And I have to remember that even if the worst does occur, He still cares more than I can ever imagine.  

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Seeing the truth

We have now spent about three weeks in Spain and Portugal and I have come to the conclusion that many people on the Iberian peninsula are deeply religious. It is a religion steeped in history and tradition. You can see glimpses of the gospel but on the whole it is overlaid with stories and myths and age old patterns.
The story of St James in Santiago is connected with Mary the mother of Jesus bringing a marble pillar to build a church Zaragoza, in order to encourage James. Icons and relics are treasured in many churches. The worship of Mary dominates. One wonders at the psychology of that. 
And yet, there are glimpses of the heart of the gospel:

* “God is honoured in this place” was written over the front door of a convent

* John 3:16 emblazoned in a Cathedral

* many of the windows and frescoes relate Bible stories
But a question remains: what is at the heart of the faith of the people that attend these churches? Is it a Romans 1:16 faith or is it laden with works and deeds and right behaviours to gain salvation?
In nearly every church we enter I spend some time praying that the gospel may be heard clearly.  

  

   

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