The Church in a Pandemic

Here is a piece written by my wife Hetty reflecting on the church in our current time.

What happens when a church/ faith community/ group of believers, find themselves in the world of Covid 19?This is a question that I’ve been stewing on for 8 months. In March and April I kept my ears and eyes open for evidence that believers were mobilised to give assistance wherever the need was. I also wanted to see how churches were adapting their services to the challenges and opportunities of ‘online’.

At first I noticed the Sikh and Muslim communities making and delivering meals for tertiary students who had lost their income. I saw that churches were moving online but it was a poor attempt to replicate the service as close as possible, losing much of the sense of personal connection. Some church leaders tried bizarre stunts to continue certain practices.

Closer to home I heard of the work a group of Christians, which included my daughter, was doing to provide meals to the homeless and hungry. To change the sit-down meal they offered in the past with a takeaway one. Our local Christian school is using the produce from their horticulture unit to make meals and fresh food hampers for families who are having difficulty making ends meet.


Yesterday I stumbled across an article about the pandemics of the past. It explained the advancement of the early Christian church during and following the Antonine and the Cyprian plagues that occurred in the Roman Empire of A.D. 165 – 262. The combined pandemics’ mortality rate was anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the empire’s population.


So what caused the baby Christian church to become a significant religion?Here’s a different way of asking this question: What was God doing in the hearts of the believers? How was He resourcing and equipping them?This is a quote from that article-
“Rodney Stark, in his seminal work “The Rise of Christianity,” argues that these two pandemics made Christianity a much more attractive belief system.While the disease was effectively incurable, rudimentary palliative care – the provision of food and water, for example – could spur recovery of those too weak to care for themselves. Motivated by Christian charity and an ethic of care for the sick – and enabled by the thick social and charitable networks around which the early church was organized – the empire’s Christian communities were willing and able to provide this sort of care.Pagan Romans, on the other hand, opted instead either to flee outbreaks of the plague or to self-isolate in the hope of being spared infection.”


Ah! There it is. Charity.


But where are the majority of today’s Christians to be found? Fleeing the outbreaks? Self-isolating? Pretending that nothing’s changed? Trying to get modern technology to ensure the congregation can continue to tithe? Demanding that the government leaders allow their churches to meet in person again?
Or living out the commandment of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Luke 10:27)


I don’t want to search for this. I want it to be so, so patently obvious that a blind man couldn’t miss it. I want people to say “Christians? Yeah, there they are….. using their facilities to cook meals……..providing shelter………helping those struggling with anxiety………using their charitable networks to distribute aid.”
The twenty first century Christian has been equipped by God and He has given each of us a particular task that we must undertake where He has placed us.
Right now we find ourselves in a pandemic.

Categories: Christianity, Church, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Sorting Photos

Over the last few weeks I have been sorting through my parents’ photos and putting them into a visual diary. This requires some research: who are they, where was it taken, when was it taken, and so on. I have pestered relatives for information to try to uncover some of the mysteries. Some photos, thankfully have some details scrawled on the back. The problem is that most of the people in the old photos have passed on a long time ago. Google search and maps have been handy companions but there is only so much they can tell you.

My father, left, as a 17 year old

The process however, especially with the old photos is an emotional one – my dad as a 17 year old rugged up in a heavy coat. What were you thinking dad at the time this photo was taken? Where did you expect your life to lead? There are the photos of his time as an indentured worker in Germany. I see camaraderie and youth but not too many smiles. The Christmas Tree in 1943 is particularly evocative. And then there is the eerie doubly exposed photo of a young woman superimposed on what seems like a park. I have this faint memory that this was a girlfriend before my mother came on the scene. Why was this photo kept? I know my mother wanted it to be thrown out.

The mysterious double exposure

There are photos of Rotterdam before it was bombed by the Germans and then the Allies with the Kestein bicycle factory (thank you Google) with a loaded wagon pulled by draught horses. Another time and place. A world away from 2020. There are bicycling holidays after the war. What were your hopes then, dad, when so much had happened and when a blanket of pain and suffering had settled over Europe.

The sorting is a slow process as you can’t help but look at the photos and ponder as you try to sift behind the black, white and grey images and the softly fading faces.

My father, back left, in Hennigsdorf, Germany
Rotterdam before the war
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For a Time Such as This

How has God been preparing the church, the people of God, for a time such as this? And what hints and leadings has He been giving us to be His active representatives on earth right now?cropped-cropped-isaiah.jpg What opportunities has He created? These are all questions my wife has been challenging me with in recent times. Hetty has written the following.

In 2005 we went to live in the UK for 16 months. I found myself with a lot of time and looked about to find something to become involved with. Our local church put me in touch with Bridgebuilder, an organisation that worked with schools to teach children about the Christian faith.

This appealed to me because for 15 years I had been a volunteer teacher of Christian Religious Education in Australia. Every week I spent 30 minutes in each class, sharing Bible stories, and praying with the students. It was a government legislated privilege to be able to do this.

In the UK things were different. The best Christian churches could hope for was to be invited into schools for a few hours every year. Bridgebuilder developed programmes and presented them to a hundred students at a time. I felt appreciative of our Australian system but knew that there was a lot of opposition building against it in the secular community.

Fast forward 5 years and my fears were being realised. The CRE programme was under attack, the organisation overseeing it was scrambling to adapt to the pressures. If the Government removed its protective legislation how would its mission to school children continue?

This was the moment that I thought back to my time in the UK. Could God have given me this experience so that I could now see a way forward in my local situation? Had He been equipping me for a future I didn’t yet know?

Today the universal Church is part of a universal crisis. Alongside health, economics, education, transport, employment, and a hundred other areas of human life, the Church is wondering how it will survive in a Covid 19 world and how it can keep being Christ to that world.

Many Christians and churches are trying to tweak what we’ve always done – drive thru communion, services in the car park while parishioners stay in their cars, and the like. Generally we are hunkering down and looking after our own flock. Missions means going ‘out there’, but we’re being told to stay at home.

But my thought is that God has been preparing His people for a Covid 19 world. What He was doing in your life ten years ago, or five years ago, or last year, was ‘the equipping of the saints’. Cast your mind back.

Look around your immediate vicinity. What appearance does this new world have? How has it changed? Then go back to our marching orders. What is a Christian’s primary mission, and what equipment and training have we been given by God to carry it out?

One example is the scandal of child abuse that has rocked the Church. The Church has become a stench to the world, and often it is trying to make excuses for the actions of its own people, desperately trying to salvage its reputation. I cringe whenever this issue is raised. I want to hide in shame.

So how should we view the sequence of events in our time with the idea that God is using them to equip us? And how do we move forward into the future with this massive millstone around the neck of the Church?

I believe God can and will advance His kingdom in spite of the wickedness of mankind. Abusive churchmen and women cannot thwart His plans. Perhaps the Church needs to fall on its knees, confess, repent, and seek forgiveness from those it has harmed. Never seeking a lenient sentence, but accepting judgement, and giving all it owns (every last gold goblet!) in restitution and compensation. A broken and contrite heart. Personally, I am waiting for the leaders of our churches to start this process.

Then we can be used by God to …

 

Categories: christian, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A Pandemic Rant

My wife told me to write the following to get it out of my system.

 

I have become increasingly perturbed by the “sooking”, all the complaining and whinging coming out of society since the lock downs that been imposed. “Why can’t we do this now.(Clubbing, shopping, visiting)”  “I am depressed because I’ve got my kids at home.” I can’t do this and that and the list of complaints goes on  …

I am not denying that the coronavirus is a huge upheaval and people have lost their jobs, and life has been hugely disrupted – and people are dying. It is huge and it going to continue being an issue for quite some time. However, in the whole sweep of history it is not the Black Death with a third of the population wiped out, it is not a reign of terror by invading hoards, it is not the nightly fear of bombs dropping on our heads and living in the Underground every evening, it is not a nuclear holocaust. It is a pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many generations. Yet in most western countries, with a few stark exceptions, and certainly in Australia the impacts have been managed.

The virus has, however, revealed a deep lack of individual and community resilience. I believe we need to place ourselves in the context of history rather than in our self-centred C21st  bubble. My father was born at the end of WW1. The Spanish flu was running riot. When he was 10 the Great Depression started and by the time he was 20 he was picked up by invading Germans and forced to work near Berlin through the best part of his early 20s. At thirty-three he picked up his young family and migrated to Australia, worked hard, never made much money but also never complained. The thing is, he wasn’t unique. It was a characteristic of his generation. There was a resilience and tenacity. When I complained about the jobs I was supposed to do as a young boy there was, understandably, very little sympathy. He didn’t know the phrase “suck it up” but that was the intent.

The question I want to pose is, why do so many today, young and old, show a lack of resilience? With all the comforts, technology and government safety nets of our society, where is the sense of fortitude, courage and desire to overcome?

Is it that in the last few generations we have protected ourselves and children from tough choices, hard decisions and even the more mundane daily tasks that simply mean putting aside our discomfort and stepping up? If our children are told to hang the washing, weed the garden, clean the bathroom or wash the car is the expectation that they do it whether they like it or not. “Suck it up.”

What have we learned about ourselves over the past months? Are there attitudes we need to change? Are there areas of our life where we need to grow a backbone? This pandemic will be wasted if is all about returning to life as normal because it may just be that “normal” was not such a healthy state after all, for us, our families and society.

And finally, it is not simply about finding the “positives”. For many, particularly those who have lost loved ones, jobs and security, the message of “finding the positives” can be quite despairing because there aren’t any. The message, in fact, is far simpler. Life throws up many tough challenges and we need to have the courage to struggle against them whether they are individual, family or communal. It is a trait that should be learned from childhood. It is a resilience that enables communities to fight wars against evil oppressors, individuals to persevere over personal struggles and societies to fight pandemics. Is it that lesson we are all being reminded of? Looking around and observing social behavior I find the answer to that question quite disheartening.

Categories: community, Family, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

O God Our Help in Ages Past

A reflection by Hetty

O God, our Help in ages past

Our Help for years to come.

Our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our Eternal Home.

I am a small girl, sitting on a hard wooden 1950s school desk.

High above the blackboard is a wedge shaped speaker, and out of the speaker comes a crackly, church organ led version of this hymn.

It’s Anzac Day.

A familiar tune that I only heard once a year in the same place at the same time. At first it was the melody that gave me comfort and peace. Every year I forgot, and then I heard it again and my soul remembered. I sat in that new classroom, one year older, and let the notes cascade over me, swirling around me, enveloping me.

Then I began to listen to the phrases. And in my young mind I joined the words to my life. Our help, my help. Ages past, my past.

There was only one event in my past. My father died. Whatever else had happened meant nothing to me. It loomed large whenever I glanced back and it touched everything that was now.

I let these thoughts skitter across my consciousness and then they disappeared until next Anzac Day.

Next Anzac Day. I was in high school now. No speakers on the wall, we were all in the quadrangle with the principal on a platform leading the service. We had sheets with the words of the hymns, and there it was – my hymn.

I stared at the words:

Our help, ages past. Our Hope, our Shelter.

Stormy blasts.

There was something I’d never noticed before. Our shelter from the stormy blasts. I’d certainly known some of those in my ages past. Oh, I knew it was meant to conjure images of soldiers hunkered down in trenches while bullets and explosions rained down on them. But I also knew the hunkering down I’d done while the circumstances of my life exploded around me.

Our Shelter, my Shelter.

My family began to attend a different church. Now we had a service every week and a hymn book in the pew. The services were long but the hymn book was a source of entertainment for a young girl with a good imagination. I silently read through the wedding vows at the back, choosing two random people in the congregation to marry. I read through the alphabetical index and the topical index and anything else I could find in that book.

And then I found it! My Anzac Day hymn.

There were more verses that I’d never known!

“Under the shadow of thy throne,

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.”

I hummed the tune under my breath as I read the words.

Here was the perfect marriage of my comforting tune and these life affirming words on the page before me.

I knew this. I’d lived this.

“Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.”

Did it matter that I’d lived through stormy blasts? Did it matter that more stormy blasts would be coming my way in the future? Not when I had the assurance of a eternal, everlasting Shelter.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.”

This morning I woke up singing my Anzac Day hymn. Much time has rolled on since I sat staring at the speaker above the blackboard. They fly, forgotten, as a dream.

But Thou……our Guide, and our Eternal Home. My Eternal Home.

Categories: Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Second Sunday of Advent Poem

The Battles of Advent

Preceding ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’

The battle raged:

The snake in the garden,

The first murder,

The lies, deceit

And betrayal.

The Old Covenant sad stories

Reveal

The real struggle.

When David stood before Goliath

The real fight

Was in the heavenlies.

When David lusted after Bathsheba

The battle raged in places

Far beyond earth.

When the second Adam

Was nailed to a tree,

The Romans and Sanhedrin

Were not masters

But slaves.

When Christ arose,

The false Prince lost.

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Another Advent Poem – Glory

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Haloes,

The sun’s brightest rays,

The seductive gleam of gold

Or the rich sparkle of diamonds

Are muted and dim

In the radiance of Your glory!

Categories: Advent, Christianity, Poem, poetry | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Splendour

The First Sunday of Advent 2019sunrise

A prayer poem

The whole earth is full of His splendour

Isaiah 6:3

 

Your splendour shines in the DNA of our being,

In the majesty of a sunrise,

Through the first cry of a new born baby.

 

Your splendour radiates through the myriad colour promises

Of a rainbow,

The majesty of mountains

And the delicate beauty of an alpine flower.

 

Your splendour glows through

The warmth of unbroken friendship,

The care of a helping hand

And the shoulder of a good Samaritan.

 

But, sadly, too often …

 

Our eyes are numbed to splendour,

To Your splendour.

Our hearts are diverted by

Foolish trinkets.

Our minds wander

To the distracting, the temporary,

The screen flickering vacuous.

 

Forgive us Lord.

 

When our eyes are really open

We see your splendour.

The splendour of love,

The splendour of Your love

In the promise

In the promises

In the coming of the “only begotten”…

Who is

The fullness of Your splendour.

 

Amen

 

Categories: Advent, christian, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Another Survey and an OK Boomer

I received an email today from the Victorian Institute of Teaching inviting me to participate in the Australian Teacher Workforce Data survey. One of the first questions was very disconcerting. “In what year were you first employed as teacher/educator?” The list of years went down to 1975 and then implying that nobody could be that old still teaching, added casually: “before 1975”.

teacherIn fact, I was employed as a part time teacher in 1972 as I needed to “revisit” a couple of units in my university course at the time. But in a week in which treasurer Josh Frydenberg is encouraging oldies to stay at work (as a number of his predecessors have done) my original thought was dejavu – I have heard this all before.  Therefore it was ironic that survey assumed that there would be too few in the category before 1975 to be concerned about.

It is incredible that this influx of baby-boomers into retirement years continues to come up as a surprise. Governments have lived through the wonderful tax years when the (OK)Boomers paid into the treasury coffers but few, I say “few” because some have made an attempt to develop our superannuation system (- thank you Mr Keating), have had the political will to do something.  Most have either played with it as a cash cow or disregarded the problem altogether only echoing the previous treasurer when the next intergenerational report comes out.

I agree that our young people deserve better but so do those who have contributed their whole life time to advancing Australia’s economy. The fault doesn’t sit with the old or young but with a succession of our political betters who have, while knowing the inevitable statistics, done little to deal with the problem. Now we see a growing burden developing on our young but there are also many older people who are not on grand superannuation schemes who need to be assisted too. So there are lots of questions and very few answers.

Where are the leaders with vision who have the courage to look way beyond the next election? Don’t get me going. This is just one of many areas where vision is lacking. So, for the time being at least, I will heed my master’s voice and continue to teach. I wonder what the drop down box will reveal in next year’s survey?

Categories: community, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Jesus Loves You (and wants You to be Happy). Yes?

Over the last 8 weeks I have come across diverse theologies which had one common theme: ‘Jesus loves you’ with the added rider ‘and wants you to be happy’. Initially I didn’t have a problem with it but the more I reflected on it, issues arose.

One group stressed the love of God. It was the mantra and truth that they continually espoused but this was never really unpacked. Then later, I heard the same message in a totally different setting. Jesus loves you and wants you to be happy. One of the implications was that ‘sin’ in the traditional sense, was irrelevant because whether it was one’s sexual inclination or activity, divorce, or , in fact, anything else that hindered one’s happiness, lots of things we considered wrong in the past, were now passe because after all, God wants us to be happy.

‘Jesus loves you’ resonates with our age. We live in and era in which people are desperate to be loved. This God has to hit our ‘like’ button. We want happiness and freedom and so the two, Jesus love and happiness, make an excellent ‘twin set’.

But what does “Jesus love you” really mean? Essentially it means that he loves us that much that he doesn’t want us to live with our brokenness and sin. He doesn’t want us to live with that which kills us and separates us from God. In step one he died on the cross to remove God’s judicial judgement against us. God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab, 1:13). Jesus removed God’s judgement against us. We are declared innocent.

But in step 2 he sent the Holy Spirit who on a daily on going basis makes us more like the way that God already sees us. In other words his desire is to make us more like Jesus because after all he is the perfect son.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In other words we want to see our old selves lessen so that a new Christlikeness ascends. That is more than just about happiness. It is about wholeness, newness and a break from our past brokenness. When we say ‘Jesus loves you’ we need to say it against the backdrop of a holy God who abhors sin and brokenness because that sin is allied with decay and death. It is a stench that God will not permit in his nostrils.

Does Jesus love us? Certainly! But he loves us that much he doesn’t permit us to pursue our form of happiness, but his.

Categories: Bible, christian, Christianity | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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