community

Life in the City

A quirky and wonderful post from my wife – who loves cities:

Sometimes I think I appreciate cities as other people appreciate nature. I’ve walked along Bourke Street in Melbourne for the past few hours. Dawdling, really. Stopping at a cafe overlooking the street, sitting on a bench in the mall.

The street is amazing. It’s so full of bitumen, concrete, trees with their bright green spring-ness fluttering in the breeze, big imposing buildings with little ones squished inbetween. There are interesting things to see in the shop windows. Stuff you’d never wear in a fit, stuff the likes of you’ve never seen before. My mind goes in all directions: imagining what people would have thought seeing a television or a vacuum cleaner in a shop window for the first time. Or wondering at the street sign that says ‘formerly Synagogue Lane’.

There are people everywhere. Busy, playful, bored, hassled, waiting. It seems every nation on earth is represented on the pavement and in the vehicles. I catch a sigh here and a laugh there. People talking to each other animatedly. Some looking lost and many who definitely know the mission they’re on. I wonder where all these people will be at the end of the day. Do they have loved ones to come home to? Will they feel they’ve achieved something today?

It’s fun to concentrate on the tiny details of the city. The way the bricks of an old building have been laid, or the little bows on the heels of the lady standing in front of you at the pedestrian crossing.

And then to switch your attention to the vastness of the streetscape. The sudden whoosh of wind hurtling along the canyon between the buildings. Or the volume of humanity moving about. Or the blue sky above me with wisps of clouds appearing and disappearing from view as they duck behind the skyscrapers.

Eventually, it’s time to leave this wonderful built environment. I feel the same as others might after a day in the bush. Refreshed.

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Some thoughts on: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Currently I am reading “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Butterfield. This book traces Butterfield’s journey from a lesbian professor of “Queerrosaria Studies” in the English Department of Syracuse University to a conservative evangelical wife and mother.  She is certainly not the poster girl for LGBTI movement nor of the growing voice of the Gay and Lesbian community in evangelical circles.  One can agree or disagree with Butterfield, but the book is eminently worth reading for a variety of disparate reasons:

1. It reveals how conversations between disagreeing parties can be held with honour and integrity:

One of the aspects of the book that I was most impressed with was the description of the respectful conversations she had with the Rev. Ken Smith over a long period as they explored each other’s beliefs and worldviews.  After Butterfield had written an article in a local newspaper a lot of mail came in her direction which was easily divided between hate mail and fan mail, except for one from a local pastor who wanted to have a respectful conversation. It is the genuine consideration of the pastor and the willingness by Butterfield to engage in that discussion where I see a model of how conversations can be held in our pluralistic society. Christians in particular need to take note as often our voices are perceived as judgmental and harsh. It struck me as a model as to how Christians need to deal with those with whom they disagree. It is light-years away from much of the judgemental stridency we hear too often.

2. The book reveals how Christian conversion can be a gut wrenching process  in contrast to some of the glib techniques sometimes espoused.

Butterfield calls her conversion a “train wreck”.  This is such a contrast to the simplistic “believer’s prayers” which often pass for “Christian conversion”.  She describes the amazing struggle to move from one way of life and worldview to another and the incredible personal cost.  The process involved the reorientation of every aspect of her life.  She says she lost everything except her dog.  I see it as a very modern expression of what Bonhoffer calls the cost of discipleship – a cost that those of us who have been Christians for a long time may have lost sight of.

3. The book includes some astute theological observations. I find these particulalrly helpful as they come with fresh eyes untainted by years of tradition. An unpacking of Ezekiel 16 is one example that I would like to explore in a later blog.

4. The book also gives us an outsider’s view of how we often behave in churches – the good and the bad.  Her observations are useful for us to assess our own behaviours and words and their impact on people who are unfamiliar with the ways of churches.  Butterfield also gives an entertaining and sometimes humiliating view of what we look like from the outside.

Finally, it is a book about a personal journey that can teach us all something, whether it is about our attitudes, beliefs or simply the way we go about expressing those beliefs.  I haven’t even finished the book yet and it has challenged me in so many areas.

 

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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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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

They Will Know …

In my last blog I finished with the statement, “My consistency and that of the Christian community to a gospel life style should be the first line of defence against assaults on Christian values and principles.”

A number of people have responded to me with regard to that comment. It struck a chord. Christians are apt to accuse the world of persecuting them (and it does) but we often forget, particularly in the West, that our greatest witness is our life style, and in the last few decades that has been badly tarnished.  We have had the disturbing litany of fallen televangelists, abuse of children in Christian institutions, corruption, unedifying bickering and … sadly, the list goes on. I haven’t even mentioned my own poor personal example to the neighbourhood in which I live.

Picture 316cropThose of us who are old enough will remember the ’60s song “We are one in the Spirit“. It ends with the chorus, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” In John 13:34  Jesus gives his disciples a new command: “Love one another”  and he adds in verse 35, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love, agape love – sacrificial, giving not expecting in return love, is to be the badge of the Christian.

Two thousands years later it is still a difficult task for us.  We are good at making our views heard on a whole range of social and moral issues.  But often these voices are strident, judgmental and graceless with no sense of the compassion that Christ showed a fallen world.

Maybe we, and I certainly include myself, need to go back to basics. We need to go back to the attitude of grace that God called his children to have and show.  So when we are persecuted or martyred or pilloried in the media, we would hope that what the world sees is not the hissing of people like cornered snakes, but the face of a Christlike family of people who share the grief of their master for a fallen world.

 

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Values and Discrimination

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Tossed to and fro …

There is an election coming up in my state and one of the issues that has arisen is the possibility that some of the elements of the Discrimination Act which allows Christian Schools to employ only Christian staff will be removed.

For our school, which was set up by a group of Christian parents to support each other in the task of nurturing their children in the Lord, this is a serious issue. Not just our teaching staff but also the ancillary staff (administration, cleaners, bus drivers, aides) are seen as part of that process in a Christian community.  As with any community, this side of heaven, it is not perfect but our aim is to use Christian principles and values to guide and lead us through the vagaries of life.

I have to confess that I tend to become annoyed having to fight these battles on a continuing basis. Christians seem to have to justify themselves daily. I say to myself, why can’t other people see how obvious and consistent this thinking is even if they don’t agree?  However, on calmer reflection I realise that the majority of people, including Christians, live lives based on a higgledy piggledy set of values which are often in conflict and not consistent. So why should governments be sympathetic to our values when we treat them with intermittent disdain anyway?

So for me, the challenge is not (just) about standing up against society’s attacks upon my Christian values and principles but it is more about me living out my Christian worldview consistently so that my life and decisions are a reflection of a Biblical undersdtanding. Every time I am hypocritical, judgemental or shallow, I give people around me ammunition to suggest that the Christian faith is not the radical change of heart and life that Jesus and Bible claim it to be.

My consistency and that of the Christian community to a gospel life style should be the first line of defence against assaults on Christian values and principles.

Categories: christian, christian education, community | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Your Experience of Church as a Child

I need your feedback!20130425-165731.jpg

I am asking readers to recall their experience of church and worship as a child. What did you connect with, what alienated you, what activities enabled you to enjoy the community of church – in all I want to hear about the good, bad and ugly. Your memories and experiences, anecdotes and stories is what I am after.

Currently I am researching material for a book I hope to write on “children and church” and your experiences will help fill out the picture

Please email me at pstok@iinet.net.au or add your comments below.

Fellow bloggers may I please encourage you to reblog this request so that your blog readers have an opportunity to respond as well. The greater the cultural variety the better the picture I can gather.

Thank you in anticipation.

Pieter

Categories: Child Theology, Children, Church, community, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 20 Comments

Children as Spiritual Champions – Part 1

The first book I am re-reading as I immerse myself in the topic of “children and church” is George Barna’s very personal confession and realisation, “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” (Regal 2003). In this book he acknowledges his own blindness, and suggests that this is modelled by the church at large – especially its leadership, with regard to the importance of children in the church.

In true Barna-esque style he weighs and measures the problem. He looks at the trends and suggests they are alarming (41). He measures the knowledge and values that children have and comes to the conclusion that American children are not being nurtured in the faith. He says this is even more alarming when you understand that most people come to their Christian faith in their childhood.

In a very moving chapter entitled “Why kids matter” he points out that, first of all, they matter to God. They are his gifts to us. Even more importantly, because they matter, He has given clear instruction to parents and the community at large as to the importance of nurture. I would add that we see this most intimately in Jesus’ relationship with children.

Barna also states that children are the battlefront of the spiritual warfare. The battle for the hearts and minds of children is where spiritual warfare is the hottest! He suggests that the more we invest in training, teaching, modelling, encouraging and etc. at this time the less we will have to pick up the pieces in the future.

Part 2 – soon. I hope!

Categories: Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, community, Ethics, Faith, Family, Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

True Community and Mission – a quote

“Every time I hear someone teach on the Acts 2 church I wonder what first-century faith community really looked like. I can’t help but think there was something special about it that we’ve missed. It’s hard to imagine a day where people would pool what they had to make sure no one was without. While things certainly look different in our time, it just seems as if we’ve lost a little something. Something tells me community didn’t just fill a need in their lives to connect, it gave them purpose.

A Chess Community in Geneva

A Chess Community in Geneva

In essence, missional community may serve as one of the best ways we can embody the incarnation of Christ — putting on flesh and being Jesus to our world. When we live this out, the focus of the church shifts to hearing and responding to the Spirit. When this is translated collectively, congregations as a whole tend to take more seriously the how and when to engage communities where they live. “

Brandon Hatmaker, Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture (Exponential Series).  Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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Community – My Responsibility

I was teaching teachers the other day. I had to do the same sample lesson twice to two different groups. On this occasion my computer decided not to speak to the data projector so all the sample material I wanted to use couldn’t be displayed. Instead, I would have to tell them about it. Not an ideal but a workable, if clumsy, alternative. I explained this to each group. In one group they took this in their stride and made the most of the situation. The time allocated was nearly too short. In the other, no matter how positive I was there were one or two negative people who pulled down the group. It was hard to believe I was teaching the same lesson.

photo (2)I made a couple of mental notes: teachers can be just as helpful, or annoying, as students. But I also reflected on my own behaviour in group situations. Did I always try to build up the group, especially when not everything was going as it should? How does my attitude affect those around me?

In community, our attitudes are so important. Community is such a precious and fragile treasure. Nurtured and supported it is beautiful and life affirming, but if it is neglected, or worse, deliberately sabotaged, it becomes a place of pain and anger. Broken community displays the uglier aspects of our human nature.

This incident reminded me that healthy community requires a deliberate attitude on my part. It requires a sense of grace and forgiveness – it requires me to treat others just as I wish to be treated.

Now where have I heard that before?

Categories: community, Devotional, Faith, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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