A Desire for Justice

Over the last two weeks while studying Anh Do’s book “The Happiest Refugee” we have also been looking at two TED clips on the refugee crisis in Europe. One talk reflected on the sinking of a refugee boat with 500 people from which only a handful of people survived. The second talk outlined the story of two young men who tried to swim the English channel starting at Dunkirk. Sadly, one body was found on the coast of Norway and the other on the coast of Holland.

refugees-are-human-beings

source: forbes.com

The students have been discussing the book and these two talks as a preparation to write a series of blogs. I have had the privilege of sitting back and listening to the class because a student teacher has been leading the discussions. While listening in I have been impressed  and encouraged by a number of things:

  1. Overwhelmingly the students are incensed at the injustice and inhumanity of this crisis. I am impressed because they have not been inured to the relentless bad news that the world springs on them everyday. They realise that the numbers have names and those names have families and other loved ones who are connected with them.
  2. The students are also eager to look for solutions. They don’t just throw their hands up helplessly. Within the complex issues there is always a desire to seek answers.
  3. I have been impressed with the passion. Young people are often accused of being narcissistic and self obsessed. I have seen nothing of this.  In fact I see more of this in our politicians and political commentators than in the  young people in front of me.
  4. Even though the young people are proud to be Australian they are not blind to its weaknesses.
  5. The aspect of the discussions that have pleased me most has been the underlying question: “What does Jesus want us to do?” For a number of students this is the fundamental guiding principle.

So, despite the confusion found in our era and the perceived watering down of values the young people in front of me give me immense hope.

 

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Bible Black Holes

Another blog post from my wife.

Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.

I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.

Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?

Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.

Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.

Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.

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From Generation to Generation

Another blog post from my wife.

A while ago I found a book in a secondhand shop near our home. It had a title that caught my eye – “Portrait of Jesus” by Alan T Dale. I bought it and put it on my bookshelf, alongside all my precious children’s Bible books.
Recently I took it down and discovered what a true gem it is. But more than that, I found potraits of Jesusone of those award certificates pasted onto the facing page.
Amazingly, I know both the Sunday school student who was given the book 28 years ago, and her teacher.
I held the book open at this page and stared at the names. I could see those women before me. A older woman who encouraged me when I was ministering to the children in our church, and a young lady who gave such dedication and devotion to the children in her care that she was an example to me. And now I was using the book to prepare for another teaching moment.

The older woman happens to be a neighbour, so yesterday I went for a walk, with the book tucked under my arm. She answered my knock on her door, invited me in, and listened as I explained what I’d found. Yes, she remembered her student from 28 years ago.
We sat together marvelling at God’s goodness. He gave all three of us faith. He gave us opportunities to share that faith. He placed us, briefly, in the same time and space so we could encourage each other. And then He sent us onto our next mission.

Here in my hands I hold the testimony to this truth.

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The Final Essay

I have just put the finishing touches on a 3000 word essay. I will give it 24 hours to settle and let all the sediment sink to the bottom and then I will submit it. My wife thinks that I am crackers wanting to jot down a few more words in a blog. But this is a different kind of writing – it is cathartic. After all the criteria, references, notes and details it is enjoyable just sit and unstress the brain with a few freely chosen words.

One thought I had was the difference between university in the late 60s and early 70s to now. I have not even set foot in the university this time.  It has all been online: the readings, the discussions, the essay submissions, the library loans have all been done from behind the keyboard. If this had been the case in 1972 I would have missed all the Vietnam war  and anti apartheid protests. If my memory serves me right Uni seemed like a pit of a million youthful passions back then. It is probably safer behind a keyboard. I only have to hide from any odd jobs the wife may have in store.

This has been my most active semester. As I have written in a previous blog, my attendance to observe and teach a migrant English classes has been quite exhilarating. My comfort zone has been well and truly stretched. An extra 10 hours of classrIMG_0944oom observations and lessons together with extra lesson planning has been quite demanding. I had promised myself, not that long ago, that I wouldn’t put myself under that sort of pressure.  Better try next time.

Oh well. One more review of the essay and then press “submit”. Then in a few weeks time I will get the assessor’s judgement. Now I know how my students feel.

 

 

 

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A Term of Lessons

Normally teachers teach. That is the idea of teaching. This term, however, I have been taught a lot. Over the last 11 weeks I have not only been completing my normal teaching load but I have also been learning how to teach English to migrants. From teaching the big ideas in literature I have had to move to teaching sentences in the simple present tense. After using the complicated meta language of English I have had to use simple descriptions and definitions. It has been hard.

I speak too fast. My writing is unintelligible. My words are too big …  for me it has been a head spinning time of redefining my teaching.

But I have learnt much more. I have learned about courage, hope, resilience, persistence … human qualities that we, in our comfortable lifestyles, have forgotten about. The stories that the refugees and migrants have told me of their past lives have reminded me of the best we can discover in human character. Last month I mentioned “Ahmed” who had to wait five years to be reunited with his wife and children. I didn’t mention another man whose eyes welled with tears when he told me about his wife and eight year old son. His son was one year old when he last saw him. That waiting requires courage and patience.

I have learned about other cultures and attitudes. To be honest, I have learned more than I have taught.

One final thought. According to polls Australians seem to love the “turn the boats back” policy held to by our major parties. Maybe it has saved lives by stopping drownings at sea. My challenge to our politicians and the general public is to rub shoulders with our migrants and refugees. My wager would be that our nation would have a far more compassionate policy. A policy that actually reflected the best of our history of taking in the alien and stranger into our midst.

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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

  

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, Faith | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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