Monday, December 31, 2012

The sins of Sodom


Every so often a preacher will stand up and say that God is punishing us or is about to punish us in the same way he punished Sodom. And when they talk about ‘Sodom’ in this way, they don’t even need to say what they think God might punish us for – everyone knows it’s for homosexual practices. The funny thing is God never said he punished Sodom for homosexual practices at all.  

Yes, that’s right. We all presume it’s in there, right. I mean everyone knows that Sodom was punished because the people in there were homosexuals. But it’s not actually in the bible. What is in the bible is that men came to Lot’s house in Sodom and asked to have sex with the male visitors (who were angels) that had there. (This was after God had said he would destroy Sodom, by the way.) But it doesn’t actually say God destroyed Sodom for this reason.

And so if we want to rant and rave about Sodom and get people all scared that God is going to show his wrath in the same way again, we better be very clear about what the sins of Sodom actually were. I mean if we want to prevent it – which apparently many preachers and Christians do – then we want to make sure we’re avoiding the very things that Sodom did. Right?

I can imagine people thinking, well if God didn’t actually specify what the sins of Sodom were, it was implicit in the actions committed before it was destroyed. And so it’s obvious that homosexuality was the cause of God’s wrath. The problem is there is something better to go on. (And no, I’m not talking about some kind of sociological study or personal feeling or liberal attitude.) How do we know what the sins of Sodom were? We go to the bible. Because the bible actually states quite clearly what they were.

Now the only thing mentioned in Genesis is the story about men wanting to have sex with the angels and the fact that there was a huge outcry against Sodom. Also in Jude 1:7 it says that Sodom and Gomorrah practices sexual perversion and immorality. So I do believe that sexual immorality (though not specifically homosexuality) was part of Sodom’s sins. I say only part, because Ezekiel 16:49 gives quite a different account of what Sodom’s sins were. It says ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’

Whoa! Maybe we should be scared. Arrogant, overfed, unconcerned (some translations say idle or lazy) and not helpful to the poor and needy. Sounds like most of the people I know. Matter of fact, it kind of sounds like me too. Probably sounds like most of the people in the western world – and I’m including Christians.

I mean if we’re really serious about avoiding the same fate as Sodom – which it appears many people are – then we need to take steps to get rid of these things. No more over eating. Let’s legislate against that. Boycott McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks. Let’s fine people for being idle or lazy. And let’s put rules in place to ensure every single person cares about the poor and the needy. Making laws against pride is going to be hard, but I’m sure we can think of something. Of course, it may mean that practically everyone ends up on the wrong side of the law.

And the next time we feel tempted to blame a natural disaster on God’s wrath at homosexuals, perhaps we should take a good long look at our own life. Sodom was a case where God showed his anger. I agree with the preachers on that point. I also believe that he may show his anger in the same way again. But I don’t think it will be because of homosexual practices. I think God’s anger is far more likely to be against the very sins He says Sodom committed: gluttony, pride, unconcern and laziness. Let’s take a look at our own lives and see if there’s any way we might be incurring the wrath of God, rather than pointing our fingers at other people.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Wanting things and hurting others


The more we want things, the more likely we are to hurt people to get them. That’s pretty scary for a generation of people that have basically been programmed to want things from the time they were born. Not only do we have a whole advertising industry that spends billions of dollars in figuring out exactly how to make us want things, but our very culture seems designed to promote the view that there are things we want and we should do everything we can to get them.

Even our churches seem to share this view. We are told that we have desires and that God wants to give us those desires. It’s suggested that we shouldn’t limit our dreams, but should make them as big as we can – because God wants to answer our wildest prayers. I’ve heard it preached that if you’re praying for a mate, don’t just pray for a mate, but write down a whole heap of attributes you want that mate to have and watch God give you every single one of them.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting things. It’s a normal and natural part of being a human. But I do think we take this business of wanting things way too seriously. The world and the church promotes very heavily this idea that everybody wants something and everybody can get it. You are almost looked down upon if you say there’s nothing that you really want. Or even worse, you’re told that not wanting things is a sign that you don’t really trust God.

You hardly ever hear the bad points about wanting things – and believe me, there are bad points. I go back to my first sentence. The more we want things, the more likely we are to hurt people to get them. People who wouldn’t think about hurting people in any normal course of events will think nothing about hurting people if it helps them get something they really want.

One of the funniest examples of this is a wedding. Women who would never usually dream of pushing or hurting other women will push and shove just to get that bouquet – because they really, really want to get married. Love itself is a good example of how people hurt others to get what they want. Friends will betray friends. Spouses will betray spouses. And even just the regular dating ritual of trying people out, without taking a minute to think about their feelings, is a form of hurting people in order to get the relationship you want.

People who really want to be successful in their career will hurt people on their way to the top. People who want to be rich will hurt others to achieve the bank balance they want. Teenagers who want to be popular will hurt the friends who have been there for them.

Now this isn’t always the case. People can want something very badly and yet refuse to hurt people in order to get it. In fact, a good test of how much moral integrity a person really has is to place them in a situation where they can get what they want, but only if they do something wrong or hurt another person. The time when many of us are most tempting to do the wrong thing is when we want something. Whether we’re the kind of person who hurts others or not, it’s worthwhile being very, very careful when it comes to the things we really want. Wanting something badly can be a great test of our true moral character.

There’s something else I’d like to add. As mentioned, the church often tells people they have desires and that God wants to give them those desires. However, God doesn’t want you to hurt others. If you’re praying for God to give you something, then don’t hurt someone in order to try and get it. Firstly, I don’t believe God will answer your prayer in a way that involves you hurting others. Secondly, I also don’t believe that God wants to bless the very thing that is making you hurt others.

So wanting things is quite okay – although perhaps not as much as the world will have us believe. But hurting others to get it is not.




Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass shootings: Addressing the 'why' and not just the 'how'


As most people I'm sure are aware by now, on Friday, 28 people were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, including 20 children. This is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims and their families. It shouldn't have happened. And it could have been prevented.

As is to be expected, this latest shooting has revived the gun-control debate. Many people believe that it's further evidence that the US needs tougher gun laws. I agree. If this man did not have a gun, this shooting would not have happened. And mass shootings like this occur way too frequently in the US. They need to do something to stop them. And having stricter gun-control laws is a first step.

But I think it's important that it is treated only as a first step. If people have no access to guns, I believe it will prevent tragedies like the one we've just seen. But if people still would like to go around killing other people, but just don't have the means to do so, then this is still a tragedy.

Gun-control addresses the 'how' of mass shootings. And we need to get that sorted out. But we also need to ask questions about 'why'.

If a child is hitting another person over the head with a hammer, the first thing you do is take away the hammer. But the second thing you do is ask questions about why a child would want to hit someone over the head with a hammer in the first place.

Twenty-eight people being killed in a mass shooting is undeniably a tragedy. But so is the many people who commit suicide. In Australia, it is estimated that approximately 259 people aged between 15 and 24 commit suicide every year (http://www.kidshelp.com.au/grownups/news-research/hot-topics/suicide.php). That's a tragedy too. Australia has tougher gun laws - which were enforced after a mass shooting. But although we may have prevented (quite rightly) the tragedy of mass shootings, the tragedy of people who want to take life (even if only their own) remains. In the US, 4,212 young people committed suicide in 2005 (http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html).

And even with suicide, I believe we often address the 'why' and not the 'how'. People are told to be on the lookout for suicidal signs, to ask people if they are okay and to get help for anyone that seems suicidal. All of this is good and must be done. But we also need to address the 'why'. We need to ask why so many people feel suicidal in the first place.

In relation to mass shootings, talking about gun control is definitely a 'how' question. It treats the symptoms, but not the disease. And those symptoms need to be treated - because they cause unbearable pain. But let's not forget to treat the disease itself. Let's not think that as long as we put in place tougher gun laws and see no more mass shootings, that the disease has been 'cured'. It hasn't. Let ask some serious questions about 'why' mass shootings happen in the first place.

Commenting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Governor Dannel Malloy said, 'Evil visited this community today.'

Really? How did it come? Did it come through a person? Or through a gun? It's so easy to say things like this because it makes it sound like something that just happened. We can absolve ourselves of all responsibility. It doesn't ask the 'why' questions.

I don't agree with Governor Malloy. I don't think evil came to that community. I think that society itself is sick. And in this one place at this one time, that sickness manifested itself in a terrible way.

Jesus told us to have compassion for others. And it is very easy, as a Christian, to feel compassion for the 28 people that were killed, for the parents of those 20 children. I have two children. I find it hard even to imagine how those parents might be feeling because it hurts too much.

However, our compassion should not just be for those who are hurt. It should be for those who do the hurting. It should be for the gunman as well as the people he shot.

And true compassion does not just say 'I feel for you.' It enters into people's pain and tries to prevent it. When Jesus healed people with illnesses and diseases, he was not telling us we should try to perform miracles. He was showing us that not only does he care about people's pain, but he tries to heal it. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we should still do the same.

And so our compassion for the gunman should not just lead us to say 'let's take away access to guns'. Tougher gun laws would have prevented the pain of the people who were shot and their families, but it would not have prevented the pain of the gunman himself. If we truly have compassion for everyone, then his pain is important too. And so is the pain of people all over America (and Australia and many other countries) who feel that same type of pain but don't make it onto the news.

The high suicide rates in both Australia and the US is also a symptom of the disease. I don't know what the cure is. I'm not a sociologist or a psychologist. But I do know that we need to look for one. And we need to start looking for ways to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. 




Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting and giving


Today’s world is very focused on getting. Our media is full of advertisements trying to persuade us to get things. Many of us want to be rich because of all the things we would then be able to get. We judge lives by how much stuff people have gotten. When people say someone has done well for themselves, it’s usually because they have got a high-paying job, a good house and good investments.

But things don’t need to have a dollar symbol attached, to be part of our culture of getting. A look at anyone’s to-do list will reveal a wide range of gets. We want to get fit, get married, get pregnant, get a boyfriend, get more friends, get famous, get a university degree, get a trophy.

And when we are feeling miserable about our lives, what are we usually upset about? What we haven’t got. We haven’t received the love, the friendship, the opportunities, the beauty, the money, the accomplishments, the treatment we deserve. We wanted to have gotten more and we’re annoyed that we didn’t. 

Some churches have also jumped on the getting bandwagon. They tell Christians about all the things they can get if they pray. They tell them that God wants them to get that job, get more money, get healed. We pay a lot of attention to “For everyone who asks receives”.  Not so much to Act 20, where Paul tells us that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Whatever happened to that? Was is just something that worked well in Jesus’ day, but isn’t really applicable in today’s consumer culture? I don’t know so. I’m pretty sure the idea seemed just as strange then as it does now. But it’s often the things that seem the strangest that have the most to teach us.

It’s a completely different way of measuring things than the one we are used to. We are taught to believe that how much stuff a person has and how much we get is what’s important. To place more value on giving completely turns things around.

It’s kind of hard to get our heads around. We may say it. We may even believe it. But do we live like this? When we go to bed at night, are we thinking of all the ways we gave? Or are we thinking about all the things we failed to get, all the things we did get and all the things we want to get tomorrow? When we write out our goals, are they all about giving? Or do most of them revolve around getting? When we think about accomplishments, do we think of the things we gave or do we think of the ways we got?

So it’s not quite gospel truth – but Acts is pretty close and Paul did say that Jesus said it. So taking it as gospel truth, how does that change the way we think about our lives? Do we think differently about what ourselves and others have achieved? Does it change our goals and priorities at all? Does it make us see that what we thought was important really isn’t that important after all?

And it works. This isn’t just something that looks good in the bible, but fails to work out in real life. It really works. A parent receives much joy from their relationship with their children – even though it is a relationship that involves lots of giving and not much getting. When I feel down, I have found the best way to cheer me up is to go out and help someone – and I’m sure I’m not alone. The happiest people are often those that are in jobs that involve lots of giving. The unhappiest people are generally the most selfish ones.

So why not try it? Cross out a few gets on your goals list and replace them with some gives. Think about your accomplishments only in terms of what you gave. Try to give more love than you receive. And if you’re feeling down, forget about cheering yourself up with a spending spree. Try a giving spree instead.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Committed to the cause


If I were a king and wanted to get a whole heap of warriors to fight for me, there are three ways I could do this. I could scare them into fighting. Threaten to kill them or torture them or make their life a living hell if they didn’t fight. That would work – until they started thinking I wasn’t that scary anyway. Until they began to wonder whether I really had the power or the resources to carry through on my threats.

Or I could bribe them into fighting for me. Promise them rewards – good pay, gold, land, whatever. That would work too. Unless they didn’t get those rewards when they expected them. Or unless those rewards weren’t as good as what they thought they would be. Or until someone else promised them better rewards.

Or I could get them committed to the cause. And once they were committed to the cause, I wouldn’t need to persuade them to fight. They would want to. And they would fight longer and harder than any of the other two groups of warriors. In a battle between the three, I’d be backing the ones that are committed to the cause. I’d rather have ten warriors committed to the cause than 50 warriors who are there for the rewards or 100 warriors who are there because of fear.

So too are there different ways of getting people to follow Jesus. For a long time, the church relied mainly on fear. There was the fear of hell. But also there was the fear of the Inquisition or ex-communication if a person failed to believe or failed to do the right things. It worked. Fear does work. But then people started to read the bible for themselves. They started to wonder whether the church was really that scary. They started to doubt if it really had the power to do the things it had threatened.

Fear is not such a big thing nowadays, but we still use it. Become a Christian or you will go to hell, we tell people. And sometimes it works. But it’s kind of lost its power. Many people nowadays don’t even believe in hell. They are not going to be scared of going there. Personally, I think hell is a real place and it’s not somewhere I ever want to go. But it’s a pretty poor reason for getting people to follow Jesus.

The other way churches get new Christian recruits is by promising rewards. If you follow God, he will bless you and make your life better. You’ll get that job, have more money, be healed, live longer, be happier. That works too. But what happens if those “rewards” don’t come when the person expected them to. If a person is in it mainly for the rewards, how long are they going to stick around if they fail to materialise?

By far the best way of getting people to follow Jesus is to get them committed to the cause. Now, in my opinion, the cause of Christ is the greatest cause in the world. I don’t see why everybody doesn’t want to fight for him. But I have to be realistic and recognise that not everybody sees that. I think part of the problem is that they look at the cause of some Christians, and believe that’s the cause of all Christians or of Jesus. One example of this is issues of morality. For many people, the issue of morality is not one worth fighting for.

But the cause of Jesus is so much greater than this, and I believe there is something in it that every single person in the world can care passionately about. Instead of telling new Christians what they should be caring about, we should be helping them find what it is about Jesus that speaks deeply to them. Do they care about letting people know of God’s love and acceptance? Are they passionate about social justice? Is the idea of living a better life with God’s help one that appeals? Is caring for the poor something that speaks deeply to them? Are they amazed by this idea that we don’t need to do good works to get into heaven?

This is not to say that only one issue is important and people can just focus on one issue and forget about all the rest of what Jesus had to say. But when people become committed to those aspects that appeal most strongly to them, they will also see that the rest of what Jesus had to say is also a worthy cause. Commitment to one issue can soon turn into a very strong commitment to Jesus Christ. And I would rather have a church full of ten people that are committed to the cause, than a church of 10,000 people who are not.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nature, Food and God


Once upon a time, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve wanted something to eat, they picked it off the nearest tree. Nowadays, we pick it off a supermarket shelf. There’s something wrong with this picture.

I think that God designed us to interact with nature. When we do so, there is a spiritual dimension to that interaction. These sound like religious sounding words, but I don’t want to suggest that only people of faith have this spiritual dimension to nature. It can also apply to people without faith – sometimes more so.

One of the ways we can choose to live more natural lifestyles is through the food we eat. Many people in the western world don’t eat nearly enough food that could be considered at all natural. It has been processed, modified and added to. Even fresh fruit and vegetables that we buy from our supermarkets may not be as natural as we think it is.

But it’s not just a matter of what we eat. It’s also how the food that we eat comes to us. When we buy food from the grocery store, we are pretty much removed from the whole food process. However, when we grow food ourselves, we are part of that process. There is something a lot more natural, rewarding and spiritual about getting our food in this way. Stuff that just can’t be bought in a jar.

One of the other aspects of food that we often forget is the cost. No, I don’t mean the total price when you go through the checkout. But the complete costs to the world and to the environment is buying processed, packaged food from supermarkets. There are the costs of transport, processing and packaging (in terms of environmental costs, using up of resources such as oil, carbon emissions). When you pick up a product off the shelves, it is worth asking yourself how much is this costing the world?

Christians are taught to be good stewards. I don’t believe this just applies to how we use our money and whether we use it wisely. Although this is important. It also applies to how we take care of the world around us. We must make the best choices with what we have. We should also be good stewards of our body. When we eat natural foods, we are taking care of our body in the best possible way. As well as this, I think Christians should be people who try to give more and take less. We should think about this in everything we do – and this includes the food we eat.

Growing a vegetable garden or fruit trees is one way that we can interact with nature, eat more natural food and decrease the cost to the world in terms of our consumption. Food grown by yourself doesn’t have far to go before it is eaten. There is far less cost in terms of transport and processing. You also know that the food you are eating has not been modified or added to in any way.

Not everyone can grow their own vegetable garden. However, there are other options. Many communities have community gardens, where people can come and work in the gardens. It’s worth seeing if there’s one near you. Or if not, why not get one started? Farmers markets are also a better place to buy fruit and vegetables than the supermarket. When you buy from a farmers markets, the people selling their products are local. That means the food has not traveled as far. Also, because they were themselves involved in the growing of the food, you can ask them about how it was grown. Try doing that to the checkout operator at the supermarket.

We’re not in the Garden of Eden anymore. And let’s face it, no matter how hard we try, very few of us are going to succeed in leading completely natural lifestyles. But the closer we get to this, the better we will feel – both physically and spiritually. I think it’s worth creating our own little Garden of Edens whenever we can. 







Friday, November 23, 2012

Changes to Parenting Payment


I've just been down at Centrelink, learning about how my parenting payments will stop. Yes, I'm one of those people caught up in the 'grandfather' clause. And yes, I'll receive a pay-cut next year - right when there are more expenses and not as much income.

But this isn't a self-pitying post. If anything, I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I am working, so it won't make as much of an impact on me as other people. I feel lucky that I work from home, which gives me greater flexibility. I feel lucky that my children are relatively old (11 and 13), which gives me more ability to find work, without having to limit it necessarily to school hours. And I feel extremely lucky that I was able to be there for them in the afternoons up until now.

Many people aren't so lucky. For a parent who is not working, the changes to parenting payment mean a cut of $130. That's an awful lot of money for someone who isn't earning very much to begin with. And it comes at a very expensive time - right after Christmas and just before back-to-school buying.

Plus, it's during school holidays. If someone is lucky enough to get a job straight away, by the time they pay for holiday childcare, they may end up with less than they were receiving on parenting payment. Some parents may decide they have no choice except to wait until after school holidays to look for a job. And school holidays often involve plans to do things with the children - plans that may now need to be changed. And as any parent knows, changed plans often mean disappointed kids.

Furthermore, many parents (usually mothers) will be forced to take whatever job they can find. Well that's all well and good, you might say, don't we all have to do that? Yes, but single mothers face more barriers in getting work than other people. Firstly, they need to find work that fits in with school hours and available childcare. Also, if they have been raising children for at least the past eight years, they won't have the same recent experience and relevant skills as other people. This makes them less employable.

Many current recipients of parenting payment may be using their 'child-rearing' years to study and/or do volunteer work to help them get the job they want once their children are older. Now, they will be forced into getting whatever job they can. And if they're working full-time, and raising children by themselves, that doesn't leave much time ever to improve their skills or study until the children are older.

Plus, some of that re-training is in the form of volunteer work. Many of our schools would not function if it were not for the volunteer work done by parents. We need volunteers. What happens to school if there isn't the same base of 'volunteer mothers' to draw from?  

And that's not even the most important impact that the changes to parenting payment will have. The most important impact is that many parents will now be forced to spend less time with their kids. And quite honestly, I think that's ridiculous.

I said up above that I am extremely grateful that I have been able to be there in the afternoons for my children. It has often put a strain on the budget. But that time is so valuable. I wouldn't exchange it for anything. And honestly I think the loss of the income I could have made if I was more prepared to put them in childcare and work full-time was a small price to pay.

And that's not saying that everybody should stay home with their kids. I'm lucky. I could work from home - so it's not like I wasn't working at all. Plus the fact that I'm very introverted means I can cope with working alone in a study a lot better than other people could. I don't think everybody can make the same choice I did. But I am so glad I was able to make that choice.

And isn't it better for kids to be with their parents rather than stuck in childcare - if that's what the parent wants to do? The government spends money on making sure childcare is available, when there's expert childcare providers right there in the kids' own homes - who are forced to leave the home to work. It just doesn't make sense to me.

And the kids like being with their parents too. Let's face it, wouldn't most people prefer to be with someone who loves them rather than someone who's paid to look after them? My youngest child is now 11. So he's three years' older than the age at which parenting payments stop. But he's still not too keen on me working in the afternoon. I am looking for another job now. After working from home for so long, I think it's time. And it will mean more money. But I think my youngest child still isn't quite prepared to not see me as soon as school finishes.

And now many, many kids will be denied that opportunity to spend that time with their parents. As soon as they turn eight, mum (or dad) needs to go out and get a job. And I think that's sad. I really do. I think if kids want their parent at home, and if the parent wants to be at home, then we should be doing everything to make sure that can happen - not saying, too bad, your kid's eight, go out and get a real job.

Raising children is a real job - and an extremely important one. We should be valuing the people who do it - not telling them they should be doing something different. Or do we only value childcare when it contributes to the economy?

I do need to point out that many parents have been in this situation for a while. The grandfather clause applies to all people who started receiving parenting payment before 2006. In 2006, the time at which parenting payment stopped was changed to when the youngest child turned eight. Everyone who started receiving parenting payment before then could keep receiving it until their youngest child turned 16. They've now changed it so that everybody on that 'grandfather clause' now stops receiving parenting payment if their youngest child is older than eight.

It makes it more fair - which I suppose is a good thing. But if we do want everybody to be paid under the same rule, I think we should change everybody to 16, not change everybody to eight. (I told that to the guy I was speaking to at Centrelink and he said, no, 18!)

And now that I've mentioned him, just a word on Centrelink workers before I finish. The guy I spoke to was brilliant. He was compassionate and understanding. He didn't like the changes anymore than I did. And I felt really sorry for him, because it sounded like he's been copping a lot of criticism. I think Centrelink workers in particular often receive a lot of criticism for things that aren't their fault.

Anyway, now that's said. This new policy is ridiculous. We should be rewarding parents who want to stay home with their kids. Once upon a time, women had no choice except to quit work once they fell pregnant. That was stupid too. And it needed to be changed. But instead of giving women more choices, it seems now that mothers have no choice except to work. And that's stupid too.

I am lucky. And so are my kids. I am so thankful that I was able to be there for them. I love afternoons when they come home from school. I love the opportunity to play and laugh and talk and occasionally do nothing. I love just the fact that I'm here with them. And I know they've loved it too. Everybody should get that chance.  

And yet so many kids will miss out on that. I don't think that's fair. I don't think it's right. And I think it will be detrimental to kids, to women, to families and to society.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Definitions of God (and how our own definitions change)


Everybody has their own definitions about God. Even if your definition is “something imagined by humans that doesn’t really exist”, that’s still a definition. Those who believe in God may have more complex definitions. They have their own ideas about who God is, what he does and how he has acted throughout history.

There are no doubt some people who have never had those definitions challenged. They go their whole lives believing certain things about God and never experience anything that might suggest those beliefs may not be completely accurate. However I would think that these type of people would be few and far between. Most people have had their definitions of God challenged – sometimes on a fairly regular basis. On a minor scale, it might just be a slight disturbance on the faith radar – a minute or two when you wonder whether you definition of God is really right. On a major scale, it could mean a complete overhauling of your entire belief system.

In Christian circles, we hear a lot about doubt. Everyone has doubts occasionally, we are told. But doubt is not good. When a person has doubts, they should just keep believing anyway. Keep pressing on and our doubts will disappear.

I have spoken to many Christians who have had lengthy periods of doubt – what might be called a time in the wilderness. Their definition of God has been challenged so much that they begin to doubt what they know of him. Does he really love me? Does he answer prayers? Am I really saved? I’ve had times like that myself. As someone who constantly questions and challenges, my definitions of God seems to be under constant attack.

When I’m in this position – or when I am talking to someone who has gone through a similar thing – the presumption is made that a person having those kind of doubts wants to have those doubts removed. They want to leave the wilderness and get back to the faith and belief they once used to have. They want God to fit their old definition again.

But what if he can’t? What if God has failed to do the things we once believed he would do? What if the church’s teachings fail to work out in our lives? What if we can’t reconcile the bible with what we know to be true? What if our definition of God just doesn’t match up with reality?

Some people choose to pray and get prayed for until their doubts go away. Others spend years in the wilderness, never seeing an end in sight. Perhaps on the surface they appear to believe all the things they’re meant to believe, but underneath it all they know that their definition of God no longer makes any sense. Others refuse to acknowledge the doubts the continue to have – even to themselves.

Then there are those who simply leave – whether it’s church, religion or even God. If they can’t believe in a God who fits their definition, then they won’t believe in God at all.

Not that long ago, I had my definition of God challenged in a big way. God failed to act in a way I thought he would. God’s love, compassion and control were all question-marks in my mind. The God of my definition no longer seemed to exist.

But just because the God who fit my definitions didn’t exist, doesn’t mean God didn’t exist at all. And just because I was questioning God’s love, compassion and control doesn’t mean that they were no longer there. It’s just that my definition was wrong. I needed a new definition.

I no longer think of God the same way I did when I was a child. Nor do I think of him the same way I did when I was a new Christian. God hasn’t changed. But my way of defining him has. In another ten years, my definition of God may have changed again. I don’t want to go back to my old ways of looking at God. Doubt, in a way, has been good for me. It has moved me onto new ways of looking at God. And I would prefer to do that than simply have my doubts prayed away until God fits my definition again. 

I don’t imagine I will ever get to a perfect definition of God. In a way, God cannot be defined – even though this doesn’t stop us wanting to define him. But that’s okay. For as long as I am prepared to redefine God – instead of expecting God to fit my definition – then I will continue to grow. And maybe my definitions of God will get closer and closer to the truth. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Moments of Beauty


A young boy trips over and skins his knee. He takes a big breath, fuelling himself for a very long cry, gives his mother a quick glance to make sure she’s watching – and then spots a butterfly. He stares at in wonder, as his pain is forgotten and the opportunity to get attention is missed. He is having a moment of beauty. The mother has her own moment of beauty. On her way to comfort her child, she stops and simply enjoys the look upon her son’s face.

Moments of beauty are like that. You are so caught up in something beautiful that you forget your own worries, your own fears and your own desires. All the thoughts that were fighting with each other inside your head simply disappear. You forget about ‘me’ for a while. You forget about everything. You simply enjoy the beauty.

The best example of a moment of beauty is the mother who looks into her newborn baby’s eyes. Regardless of how many moments of beauty I have in my life, nothing will ever compare to that experience. In fact, I doubt very much whether anyone is ever captivated quite so much as a woman who first looks into her child’s eyes. The pain of labour is completely forgotten. The worries and fears about how she will actually raise her child no longer seem that important. To say you lose yourself is a cliché, but sometimes a cliché best expresses the truth. The new mother really does lose herself. When a mother looks at her newborn, she doesn’t think of who she is or what she wants. There are no thoughts at all, well not in words. Just an overwhelming feeling of love and wonder.

Moments of beauty don’t have to be centred around some amazing experience, like giving birth to a child. They happen all the time. They can be big or small. Sitting on the beach watching the sunset. A flock of birds flying overhead. Looking at a waterfall. Attending a school assembly and hearing children sing. Listening to the solo of a classically trained singer. A moment of silence at the end of a hectic day. Walking into an old church and feeling the impact of awe, magnificence and wonder.

The other day, I was standing outside the shopping centre, when a young couple walked past. I can’t remember what I was thinking about at that moment, but I’m sure I considered it terribly important at the time. But as soon as I saw them, I stopped thinking. Now they were attractive, but I wouldn’t say they were stunning. But there was something about their faces and their body languages that really moved me. There seemed to be an ease there that you very rarely find. They looked at each other as if they really understood the value of the other person. Not stunning, no. But definitely beautiful, even if it’s not the kind of beauty that can be captured in photographs.

I have been calling them moments of beauty, but I most often think of them as moments that touch the soul. Because that’s what I think they are. When something captivates you with its beauty, I believe it’s felt more with the soul, than with the body. They are the times when our spirit finally gets our flesh to shut up for a moment. And it’s when our flesh is quiet, that I think God is mostly likely to tap us on the shoulder and remind us that he’s still there.

There is a passage in the bible that always makes me think of moments of beauty. It is found in 1 King 19:11-12.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 

I’m not quite sure why it makes me think of beauty, because there is certainly nothing in there that is beautiful. I think it’s that still small voice at the end. When we do have a moment of beauty, or a moment that touches the soul, we can sometimes hear that still small voice. It’s like God’s gently whispering in our ear. But we have to pay attention or we miss it. And most of the time, we’re not paying attention.

Whether we’re paying attention or not, I think moments of beauty are God’s way of reminding us that this life and this flesh are not all that matters. When we ignore our flesh, we can begin to pay attention to our spirit. When we lose ourselves, we may just end up finding God.




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Selling God


When mainline churches are declining in numbers, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches seem to be growing big-time. Many of them have congregations that number in the thousands. Those that belong to these churches would probably claim that it’s all to do with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings them to church and works powerfully in their lives once they get there. People want to go to spirit-filled churches.

There’s probably an element of truth in this. But I think there’s a much bigger reason for the growth in these type of churches. Pentecostal/Evangelical churches know how to sell Jesus.

From the minute you walk through the door of the church, you are treated as a potential customer. You’ll probably be greeted by a friendly face at the door, who will ask whether you’re just visiting. Say you’re not a Christian, but you’re thinking of going to church, and you’ll be bumped up to VIP status. Make a commitment to Christ and you get your own welcome pack – introduction booklet and free bible. Now I’m not criticising this. New members and visitors should be given warm welcomes. And Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians aren’t the only ones who do this. But it is a selling point.

Another selling point is the music. Forget boring organ music and hymns. That’s now the kind of music that will sell a church. For Pentecostals, it’s all about upbeat and loud music and lyrics that are easy to remember and easy to sing along to. This music is supplied by a band, that sits up on stage, so that you can watch them as though you’ve come along to a free live music event. For many churches, you’ll also find that the music itself can be bought on CD, so you can even listen along to the songs at home.

The social aspect also helps to sell the church. I think this is more of an issue for young people – and by young people, I mean anyone under 55. People want to be around people of their own generation. The Pentecostal/Evangelical style churches, with their music and their feel, attract younger church-goers. Then with bible studies and other fellowship groups, there are lots of opportunities to socialise. It’s part of the whole fun package.

Now I don’t have any problems with any of these things. I think they are good things to do and that all churches should be doing them. It makes sense that if churches want to attract people, they have to make church attractive. But I am concerned about how far churches go in selling the church – at the expense of other, more important things. And I definitely have issues in seeing Jesus as a commodity or product to be sold.

Let’s take the message. One strong message that comes across in the evangelical churches is that God wants to make your life better. He will bless you. He will heal you. He will get you that job, answer your prayers, give you what you want. The preacher speaks of how he had absolutely nothing going for him, but God completely turned his life around. Some sermons sound like 30 minute advertisements for God. I’ve seen TV advertorials with less hyperbole. From a selling point of view, it makes sense to focus on this message. The way you sell anything is by drawing attention to the benefits. But Jesus shouldn’t be reduced to some kind of religious product that will solve your problems and change your life. That’s not what Jesus is about.

Jesus did a pretty terrible job of selling himself. He said things that made people uncomfortable. He got on the wrong side of the religious leaders. He asked people to do things that seemed practically impossible to do. He said that people had to be servants. He asked rich people to give up all their money. He told his followers that they would be persecuted because of him. None of the early Christians would have followed Jesus because he was the best religious product on the market at the time. They followed Jesus because, although they knew it would make their life harder, Jesus was someone worth following.

I wonder about today’s new generation of Christians. Are they following Jesus because he is someone worth following? Or are they following Jesus because someone did a good job of selling him to them? And if it’s the latter, what happens if the product fails to deliver? What if God doesn’t bless them, heal them, get them that job, turn their life around? Do they ring up God and ask for a refund? Or do they simply go searching for a better religious product?

Churches should be attractive places. When people go to church, they should get some benefits. But Jesus should never be reduced to a good religious product. He is so much more than that. 


Monday, November 12, 2012

The importance of the Sabbath


            Most people would agree that at least some of the Ten Commandments have value. Do not murder. Do not steal. They make sense - whether you belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition or not. But then there are others that apparently seem worthless. And at the top of that list might be keeping the Sabbath. Even Christians often don't do a good job of following that one. And many people would barely give it a thought.
            But there are good reasons why we should start taking this commandment seriously again. I'm not talking here from a religious perspective. Like do not murder and do not steal, it makes sense - whether you're a Jew, Christian, Sikh, Agnostic or Atheist. Keeping the Sabbath contributes to the wellbeing of ourselves, our communities and the earth.
            But in order to understand why we should take this commandment seriously, we need to really understand what the Sabbath was for. Yes, it was for worshipping God. And from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that's important. But as I'm suggesting it's beneficial for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, there has to be more to it than that. In fact, I think one of the reasons why this is the most neglected commandment is that we have narrowed it down to just worshipping God, which is even narrowed down further to 'going to church'. Christians believe they're obeying the commandment if they go to church on Sundays. People who don't accept the Judeo-Christian God figure they don't go to church and therefore it doesn't apply. But the Sabbath is meant for so much more than that.
            The next thing we can say about the Sabbath is it is a day when we do not work. For some, this meant a whole heap of rules about what could and couldn't be done on the Sabbath. For others, it simply meant not doing paid work. In my opinion, both miss the point. And neither approach actually considers what the Sabbath is for.
            So what is the purpose of the Sabbath? Besides worshipping God, we might also say its purpose is to rest. And this rest is not just something we should do ourselves, but something we must let others do. Exodus 23:12 says that on the Sabbath it is not just we ourselves who must rest, but also oxen, donkeys, servants and migrant workers. And just before that it says that after every seven years, the land itself must rest. The Sabbath is not just about us. It's about letting everyone rest. It's about letting the earth itself rest.
            But what might this mean in a 21st century context, where most of us don't have oxen or donkeys or servants or migrant workers? Well the point is not really about the oxen or the donkeys or the servants or the migrant workers. It's that everyone and everything (including animals and the earth) needs a chance to rest. And if we do want to think about it in a 21st century context, we need to ask what drain we are making on other people and the land? Could we perhaps replace servants and migrant workers for the people we expect to be working in stores on Sundays? Could we replace oxen and donkey for the electricity we are constantly using? Does everything always have to be in production mode for us or are we willing to give things a break?
            Thinking about the Sabbath in this way, rather than just as something we ourselves personally must do, makes us realise that rest is not just the cessation of work. Keeping the Sabbath should benefit everything and everyone. The commandment to keep the Sabbath then is not just a prohibition to work, but a commandment to participate in the benefits that Sabbath-keeping brings.
            To rest on the Sabbath may mean 'not doing certain things', but it also means to do others. We take a break from the type of things that produce goods, make money and drain the earth's resources and instead we participate in other types of activities - the kind of activities that refresh and renew us and that do not put unnecessary burdens on others.
            The inclusion of everything in the Sabbath rest also shows us that everything must have a chance to simply be. In fact, if we go back to the original day that God rested in the creation story, we can see that for seven days God created things and then he rested. This does not just mean that God stopped working. It also means that Creation, which was changing, becoming, progressing, doing, also got a chance to simply be. It no longer had to become something or do something.
            To say what constitutes rest and work is difficult because what is hard work for someone may mean rest and recreation for someone else. But if we are to truly keep the purpose of the Sabbath, we do need a break from anything that stresses us and frustrates us, and we need to choose instead those things that renew and refresh us. We also need to realise that we don't need to be constantly doing something. We just can stop, breathe and appreciate.
            The Sabbath then becomes a time when we stopping putting unnecessary demands on the earth. It becomes a time when we stop expecting so much from other people and simply enjoy their presence. It also becomes a time when we give ourselves permission to take a break from our to-do lists, to relax and laugh and appreciate the world around us.
            Perhaps the reason why the commandment to keep the Sabbath is so neglected is that we don't like simply being. We like to be achieving things, doing things, going somewhere or making progress. And we judge things (and people) on how useful or productive they are. The Sabbath not only gives us a break from this type of mentality, but it shows that people, animals and the earth have value in and of themselves. They don't need to be doing something to be important. And nor do we. Just to be is enough.
            The importance of the Sabbath commandment may not be as evident as do not murder or do not steal, but it is important nonetheless. When we stop making demands on the land, on others and on ourselves, when we value everything and everyone for what they are not what they do, we and the whole earth community flourishes.
            Keeping the Sabbath wasn't just a commandment designed to get people worshipping God. Like many of the other commandments, it would benefit the community and the individuals within it. While we may have different opinions on the importance of the Sabbath, many of us can agree that the wellbeing of ourselves, our communities and our planet is important. Keeping the Sabbath helps us do this - whether we believe in God or not.
           



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Accepting Limitations


We all have limitations or things in our life that we don't like. The general tendency is to try and change these things. Sometimes that's a good approach for some things need to be changed. But often this change is aided by consumer products and services. And consumerism itself fuels our dissatisfaction with our lives. And it is that dissatisfaction that also prevents us from accepting the limitations of the earth.

While listening to a prison chaplain talk about his experiences the other day, the phrase 'life sentence' jumped out at me. The thought of someone who can never get what he wants (freedom), and needs to accept his situation will last for his entire life, seemed quite terrible to me. How would he find joy, peace and hope? The only way he could find any degree of contentment would be if he learned to accept his situation. Fighting against it and wanting to be free would only make him miserable.

Christians often use prison cells as a metaphor for breaking free of certain things in our life. And it can be quite a good metaphor. There are some things we need to break free from. However, if we see everything as a prison cell that we do need to break free from, then maybe we lose our ability to find peace, joy and hope where we are. Maybe we are too busy fighting our cells that we miss the opportunity to appreciate what we do have and work within our limitations.

Nowhere is the dissatisfaction with our lives more apparent than in the area of appearance. Got brown hair and want blonde? Dye it. Got brown eyes and want blue? There's coloured contacts for that. Don't like your boobs or your nose or your face? Get plastic surgery. I could go on but you get the picture.

Consumerism fuels this dissatisfaction with the way we look. The more dissatisfied people are with their appearance, the more consumer products and services they buy. But it also makes us unwilling to accept any aspect of our appearance we don't like - even the ones we can't change. I admit, I've sometimes felt hard done by because God didn't make me tall, blonde, slim and beautiful. When I do that, I not only end up frustrated and discontent, but I ignore all the very good qualities God has given me. I'm too busy looking at what I don't have and what I want to see changed.

Let's look at something completely different - comfort. If we're unwilling to accept anything we don't like, then we must be comfortable all of the time. When we exercise, we prefer to be in air-conditioned, enclosed gyms rather than out in the outdoors. We like outings where all the unpleasantness has been taken away. Our houses must be perfectly comfortable. We don't like to be too hot or too cold. We're no longer willing to accept the limitations of the weather or the seasons. So we crank up our air-conditioner to achieve the desired temperature. All of this uses energy.

And speaking of energy, we are also not willing to accept the limitations of the planet. Our desire to change our life and situation - through the consumer products we buy and the energy we use - often has a detrimental effect on the earth. But rather than limiting our impact, we demand that the earth continue to give us what we want to make our lives as "perfect" or as "easy" as possible. And we pretend that it will always do so.

It won't. The earth is a prison cell. Oh yes, it's a beautiful prison cells. It has wonders and delights and can give us everything we need if we take care of it. And it's not the kind of prison cell I want to break free from. But it's a prison cell in the sense that there's nowhere else to go. Humanity doesn't get to escape from earth. We are stuck here.

And we can pretend that the limitations of this earth don't exist. We can refuse to accept them or fight against them. But none of this will do any good. Those limitations will still be there.

Or we can learn to live within those limitations. We can appreciate what we do have, but realise there are limits to it. And when we do learn to live within those limitations, we are more likely to find joy, peace and contentment. We are also more likely to appreciate what we do have and want to take care of it.

Acceptance is not a popular trait in our society. But for the sake of the earth and our own wellbeing, we must cultivate it. Yes, there will be things in our life that we don't like. Yes, there will be limitations imposed upon us that we want to break free from. But life should be about accepting those limitations, rather than believing we must get everything we want.

I have linked our refusal to accept limitations to consumerism. But while I certainly think consumerism has made this human inclination worse, it is not limited to consumerism. The bible tells us that Adam and Eve were given access to every tree and plant in the Garden of Eden except one. Rather than accepting that limitation, they ate the forbidden fruit.

How many of us have thought, if I was in the Garden of Eden, I'd be happy with what I had? Really? We don't seem so happy with what we have at the moment. We're always wanting more, always wanting to change things, always refusing to accept the limitations placed on us.

And to say we don't live in the Garden of Eden is not an excuse. Yes, the Garden of Eden was filled with good things. But so are our lives now. The world is amazing place. Our lives are filled with so many gifts from God. We have nature and relationships and bodies that are just incredible. We have joy and delight and wonder. There is so much to be thankful for.

Let's not ruin what we do have. Let's appreciate it and take care of it. Let us work within the limitations of the earth. And let us cultivate those traits of acceptance and gratitude. There may be things in our lives and our world that we don't like. But if we learn to accept what we do have, we will also learn that there is much in our lives and our world that we love. There is much in our lives and our world that we should appreciate and preserve.



 This post was also published on my other blog, God and Gum Nuts (http://godgumnuts.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/accepting-limitations.html

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hope for Australia - I have a dream


Last Sunday at church, we were asked in groups to give three to five words on what gave us hope for Australia. I didn't really get a chance to speak during that time - partly because of the dynamics of the group, but also because, at first, I struggled to find anything in Australia that gave me hope.

But I've been thinking about it all week and I've finally come up with my three to five words. They're a bit different to the words that other people were providing. They gave words for three to five different things. Well I'm giving three to five words that make up a phase. And it's a phrase is borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr.

What gives me hope for Australia? I have a dream. Or to change it to three words and make it more specific to Australia: Australians have dreams.

A dream is the ability to imagine a different world. It doesn't just say 'Well this is the way the world is', it asks 'How might the world be changed?' It doesn't just accept injustice and suffering. It envisions a world without them. It doesn't look at the problems in the world and despair. It sees its potential to become something new and something better.

Dreams can become just wishful thinking. But when Martin Luther King Jr said he had a dream, he wasn't just talking about something to fantasise about. Nobody expected that Martin Luther King Jr would be happy just to close his eyes and imagine that different world. He was going to do everything he could to see that world happen.

Dream can also appear to be unrealistic. The bigger the dream, the more idealistic people are, the more likely people are to scoff at them and say 'that will never happen'. People with dreams can often seem like they're too focused on the way the world might be that they've lost touch with the way the world actually is.

But it is an understanding of what actually is wrong with this world that encourages us to dream. We don't dream because we think the world is perfect and rosy. We dream because we know it is not.

And to dream doesn't mean we expect that dream to happen exactly as we want it to. To dream is not to say 'This is the way the world will be one day'. But it is to say 'This is the way I want the world to be, so let's do everything we can to get as close to that as possible.'

And dreams take a long time to come to fruition. Martin Luther King Jr's dream has come a long way. But has his dream been realised in every aspect? I would say no. It still has some way to go.

I would say that dreams have to be unrealistic. If we're dreaming of a world that seems possible, then we're not dreaming big enough. And yes, if our dreams are too big and too unrealistic, then we may have to wait a long time to see them come true (and they probably won't come true in our lifetime). But if we make our dreams too little, then we're limiting the potential of what this world might become.

When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, it sounded like the kind of big, unrealistic dream that will never happen. Two thousand years later and it still hasn't happened. But that doesn't mean we stop dreaming (and hoping) for that Kingdom of God. It's a dream worth pursuing. And dreams worth pursuing need to remain dreams for however long it takes.

Furthermore, while the Kingdom of God may not be here, we know it is coming and we know it is already happening. The Spirit of God is at work bringing us to that future and bringing that future to the present. It may sound like just a dream. But as Christians, we have the awesome privilege of being part of that dream and helping see that dream happen.

When we believe in a God who is at work in the world, bringing everything to its final consummation, then we realise that dreams really will come true. And we know they are already coming true - right here and right now.

So what gives me hope for Australia? The fact that there are Australians who are dreaming. There are Australians who are imagining a better world. And there are Australians who aren't prepared to just close their eyes and fantasise about this better world, but are actively working to make that world a reality.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Discovering God (in nature)

 

When people talk about becoming a Christian, the term sometimes used is 'finding Jesus' as though Jesus were hiding somewhere and one only has to look in the right place to find him. In fact, a number of cartoons have illustrated this possibility, with Jesus hiding somewhere behind a curtain or a couch.

Putting the emphasis on Jesus indicates that the only way to 'find' God is by 'finding' Jesus. You may feel spiritual, you may seek to know God, but until you 'find Jesus' it is actually you who is lost.

The other thing this term does is make 'finding Jesus' a one-off event. When you find something, you've found it. No further looking is required. Of course, you may lose it again and then have to find it for a second time. But there are times when you have 'found' something and times when you haven't, with no middle ground. You can't half find something and once you've found it you don't keep looking. It's either found or not.

Despite the claims of many born-again Christians, I don't believe that 'finding God' can be so neatly differentiated into a before and after stage. Rather than a game of hide'n'seek, it is an ongoing journey. We are continually seeking and continually finding. The word 'discovering' therefore seems more appropriate to me than 'find'.

Furthermore, God is not just discovered by Christians, but people who aren't Christians are continually discovering him too. This includes not just people of other religions - but also agnostics and even atheists - although they may not recognise what they have discovered is God.

In The Mind of God, Paul Davies[1] says: 'even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe.’ That to me sounds very much like the process of discovering God.

And while I believe God can be discovered in many different places - in religion, in relationship, in receiving kindness from others, in feeling solidarity with others, in feeling compassion for all living creatures, in seeking to correct injustice - it is in nature that I believe many people do find God.

Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly complex. That in itself often causes people to think about the reason behind it all. While not everybody will come to the conclusion that that 'reason' is God, many will - even if they reject religion. And even those who do not believe that God had anything to do with it, the very act of thinking about that 'reason' is part of discovering God.

If I stand in front of the Mona Lisa, and I think about the one who painted it, I am at least partly discovering Leonardo Da Vinci - even if I come to the conclusion that the painting occurred by someone accidentally throwing paint onto a canvas which just happened to land in such a way that the Mona Lisa face appeared.

Secondly, the beauty of nature often is so breathtaking that all we can do is stand in awe. To stand in awe of what God has made is to discover God. To feel wonder and delight and joy while looking at God's Creation is to feel part of the same wonder and joy and delight that God feels. Although, as finite beings, we will only feel that wonder and joy and delight on a limited scale, when we are truly captivated by nature I believe we sense for just a moment a tiny portion of what God feels. It seems we are raised just a little bit above our finitude and humanness.

Something else we often sense in nature in peace. Partly, this is because nature is soothing. There is a reason why when people want to relax, they listen to CDs of bird calls rather than CDs of bulldozers. Discovering that peace is part of discovering God.

So too is the recognition that we are not just individuals but part of the community of Creation. Nature often brings peace because it helps us forget about ourselves. We are lost in the moment and our own concerns are either forgotten or become less significant.

It is hard to discover God when we are solely focused on ourselves. Being in nature often turns our focus outward. The 'I' as an individual is enveloped in the 'we' of Creation. We are then able to see not just that we are part of a larger picture, but how we might act in ways to help that larger picture. Discovering God is not just about saying, 'Yes, I've found Jesus' and now I can put him on the mantelpiece along with my rock collection to stare at. It is about discovering his will, not just in our lives, but in the whole of Creation, and helping to see God's will be done.

I don't think God can ever be 'found'. Human beings will never be able to completely understand him or completely know him. We can't put him in a box, label him and store him somewhere safe so we can't lose him again. But we can catch glimpses. We can come close. We can have moments when we seem to rise briefly above our human nature. And we can keep looking and discovering, knowing the journey will never end, that there will always be new things to find and new things to search for - and that's what makes the faith journey so exciting.




Davies, Paul. The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning. Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008.





[1] Paul Davies, The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008).



Monday, September 17, 2012

Social Justice and Consumerism


One of the problems with consumerism is we often don't see the stories behind the products that we buy. And with more and more of our products made and sold by multi-national corporations, with much of their manufacturing taking place offshore, those behind-the-scenes stories are becoming less and less visible.

Yet those stories are important. And this year's Social Justice Sunday, taking place on 30 September with the theme Peace in the Marketplace, reminds us that consumerism often contributes to injustices, inequities and suffering.

We need to be reminded of the harsh and unfair conditions that people in Third World countries work under in order to produce our goods. We need to consider the impact that our purchases are having on the environment. And we need to reflect on what consumerism is doing to ourselves, not just in terms of employment practices that maximise profit and leave employees worse off, but also in terms of seeing life through a framework that values individuals over relationships and community, that leaves people feel worthless because they do not earn enough money or own the right things and that leaves almost all of us in a constant state of dissatisfaction because the advertisers keep persuading us there is something else we need to be happy.

Social Justice Sunday also reminds us that, while many people in our society see economic growth and consumerism as desirable, that is not the only possible view. Considering the negative impacts economic growth has on the environment, on people and on communities, maybe it is time we looked for a new over-arching framework, a new way of living in and seeing the world.

The Church must be a prophetic voice in this consumeristic, growth-driven culture. It must be prepared to show how our economic structures are damaging the earth and hurting people. It must be prepared to say there are more important things than profit, growth, money and purchases. It must be prepared to challenge the power of corporations and the way they conduct business. And it must show the world a different way, a way that values relationships, communities, peace and wellbeing, a way that puts people before profits, the earth before purchases.

The bible shows us that God cares about unfair economic structures. Therefore, Christians should care about them too. It is not an excuse to say we didn't know. We must make it our business to know. And if we really do care about seeing God's will done on earth, then once we know, we must do something about it.

The National Council of Churches in Australia has a pamphlet and worship resources on its website (http://www.ncca.org.au/departments/social-justice) for Peace in the Marketplace, Social Justice Sunday, 30 September. This wonderful prayer, based on the Beatitudes, comes from those resources.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
      for yours is the kingdom of God.’

God of the poor,
We hear your voice calling us to the reality of life in our land, in the country and in our cities.
The goodness of your creation has been twisted out of shape by the greed of people.
The land lifts up its voice in mourning, and the poor of the land cry out for justice.
Help us live out your just kingdom here in this part of the earth.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
     for you will be filled.’

God of the hungry,
Our indigenous brothers and sisters still struggle with worse health
and lower life expectancy than the rest of our population;
asylum seekers still wait months and years for settlement in safety;
the elderly, ill and unemployed struggle to live on pensions.
Help us know how to share our resources wisely and generously
so that all may be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,
      for you will laugh.’

God of the desolate,
Young girls are exploited to sell fashion clothes,
while women slave in sweat shops for minimum wages.
Men work long hours at dangerous jobs
and young people turn to drugs and alcohol to cover their hopelessness.
We in the developed world enjoy our luxuries
at the expense of those who struggle to make a living growing them.
Help us protect the humanity of those who produce the goods we use.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you,
     and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you.’

God of the marginal,
Governments appear to favour those with economic power,
instead of investing in education;
megastores drive small businesses to the wall;
people deafened by the strident call to consume
fail to hear the whispers of the homeless and hungry.
Help us to speak fearlessly for those with no voices,
and to remember that your grace is abundant enough for all to share.

‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
     for surely your reward is great in heaven.’

God of joy,
We pray that we who follow the way of Christ might live by your grace,
modelling care and integrity in our business transactions,
courage and hope in our politics,
and love and reconciliation in our relationships.

May our lives be evidenced by generosity,
daring to live in hope,
that our life together might point beyond ourselves
to the One in whose image we are made.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who showed us how to live. 
Amen.


Acknowledgement: These worship resources have been compiled by Rev Dr Meryl Blair for use with the Social Justice Sunday 2012 resource Peace in the Marketplace.

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