I have recently been up to the Mowanjum Aboriginal community just outside of Derby, as part of my role with the Boab network, to reconnect with the people and help Gail, the teacher of the kindy, with the final couple of weeks of school. It was so good to meet again both the kids and many of the adults that I have grown to love, although it was pretty hot! It was my 6th or 7th visit, I have lost count, and every time I come I feel both privileged to be able to share and talk with many of the people who live there, but also horrified by the lack of resources and the issues that need to be overcome.
Through sharing with the elders and with other members of the Boab network, I have come to know some of the history of the three groups that make up the Mowanjum community, the Worrorra, the Wunambul and the Ngarinyin people, and their stories of constantly being moved further and further away from their ancient lands. Moving that has been painful, that has led to broken hearts and people and many social problems.
Yet through it all, one thing remains, their strong belief in the Wandjina, the creator of life, of the land and sea, a spirit that resides in all people and all animals, that protects and strengthens and provides the framework around which the people live. These 3 groups, for all their differences, find comfort within this spirit, which surrounds and guides them, and is the essence for them of everything that exists. By drawing the Wandjinas they keep this spirit alive amongst their people, reminding them of where they come from and who they belong to and how they should live. While I feel I have only touched the surface of understanding this ancient spirituality it is strong and vibrant within their culture. Peace comes to them when they feel connected to both the land and to the Wandjina.
We too are from an ancient culture, and our links to what we call God, or the creative spirit goes back to the beginning of the world, when the universe was formed. We too see God in all things, from the stars and planets to plants and animals, and us. We too see God and it gives us comfort and strength. We too see God and are reminded of where we have come from and who we belong to and how we should live. When times are hard and sorrow and brokenness descends, it is the God of the universe, the spirit of life found within all of creation that gives the spark of life. When we love and share it is the God of the universe that is speaking through us to the world.
Somehow I think that this spirit of life is universal, regardless of what we call it. It can be seen and felt and heard, even in the darkest of moments, by all people, if we open our eyes and ears and hearts.
As Janet Oobagooma, an elder from Mowanjum, has said, “the spirit is there, we have the Spirit from God, as the white people see it, and in the aboriginal way we see the Wandjina is a God, but they are the same, they are not different.”
So often I am surrounded by those with whom only science is the answer, yet I want to say there is more, so much more, even as I am a scientist. And yes, this more is universal.
Attached is a link to a beautiful song by Sleeping at Last, called Sight. It speaks to me about this often forgotten truth, that God is everywhere, including in all of us. “Black or white, were all vivid colours, after a while it all runs together”. And sometimes others will see more clearly than ourselves, have wisdom that can teach us more about life than we know. I feel that about the women and men I have meet in Mowanjum over the past few years. This is for them.
“Life is what happens when we are doing other things”. A line from a John Lennon song, which I am sure many have heard.
Yet, how is it we behave as though we are speeding through life, on a journey to somewhere else, the aim being to finish the race and then, miraculously, all will be well. We will be successful, or rich, or smart or in heaven, if that’s what our end game is. For this is how we live. Busy, busy, busy! When all the while it is the journey itself which is our life, with its ups and downs, sorrows and joys and its many challenges. As Alan Watts has said “it is like music, our life, its a musical thing and we are supposed to sing or to dance whilst the music is being played.”
Walking the Camino, was a journey within a journey. To stop, slow down, get into a rhythm and see how marvellous and wonderful it is to be alive was such a gift. To sense a spiritual layer beneath our lives, and to tease out our calling or our vocation out of that was such a gift. For many it is an awakening to a different life.
So I have put together a small movie, a few photos and some music, to take you there, just for a moment. Perhaps to sense the music.
I also add this wonderful prayer by Michael Leunig…
We pray this day for another way of being:
another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath:
Lead us there where in simplicity
we may move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel
the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights
of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.
We may be pilgrims but it is in the living that we find life.
I have been recently reading Marcus Borg’s new book, Days of Awe and Wonder, although it is not really a book. Rather it is a collection of his writings, some from books, some from sermons, or blog posts, one is an interview, which date from 1987 to 2014. The collection was put together by his wife Marianne, after his death in 2015. It reflects quite a journey for him, as a New Testament scholar and as a Christian. While the journey would have had its up and downs, and there are differences in some of the content and understanding as he moves along, the essence of his belief and trust is there from the beginning to the end. The book provides a guide to being a Christian in the 21st century, but also provided me with a starting point for this blog.
But this blog is not about the book. It’s about me and it’s about you. It’s about how we are to track a path through life, with all of our ups and downs, and trust and honour what we believe and sense and know about this life. Even if sometimes it seems very dark and cloudy.
I always start with a title for my blogs, but couldn’t really decide with this one. I had a few including the one below –
“How to be a Christian one day, an Atheist the next, and survive”
I borrowed the idea from Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, a televangelist in America in the 60s who has taken a different path out of the evangelical movement into a space of less certainty and feels that’s okay. In fact, more than okay.
So as you see, the title suddenly picked itself!
When I sat down to think and write this blog, about faith and belief, and God and life, I realised that sometimes our tradition and ancestors show us things that are beautiful and guiding and sometimes things that distract us or lead us down a garden path. Just ask Frank.
So maybe we have to start with what we know gives us life, what we believe and hold as central to who we are.
Or in other words what we find in our own hearts, that place the ancient hebrews tell us is the centre of everything, all our hopes, our dreams, our beliefs, our truths. So I have started with me, and have made a list …
What do I believe in my heart, when no one else is around…?
I believe in –
Music – the power to comfort, to strengthen, to inspire, to relax
Poetry – especially by Mary Oliver
Awe and Wonder – the world is an amazing place, we are amazing creatures
Death and resurrection – there is always a new day
Ideas and debating them, with enthusiasm
Science – how we make things, build things, think things, feel things, do things, it tells us how the world might work, and then surprises us, tells us where we have come from, who are our brothers and sisters (which is everyone by the way).
Action – small and big
Universe – see awe and wonder
Our planet – see awe and wonder
Exercise – makes me feel alive
Air – the breath of life
Water, and occasionally something stronger
Food – shared with friends
Shelter – a home that is welcoming
Companions for the journey –
Those who do amazing things, those that do little things with love
Those who go to rallies for refugees, write letters of protest
Those who make new compassionate laws, who set up projects that empower others
Those that just get on with it, being the best they can be with what they have
Just a few of my hidden secrets!
What about God, you might ask, since I work both as a pastor and as a scientist?
Well, I trust…
The feeling that there is something underneath what we can see, that nudges us toward each other, toward goodness and truth, rather that the opposite,
That keeps the world going, and holds all things together,
That speaks to us at our most vulnerable, at our most passionate, when we are most lonely,
That tells us we belong, we are part of something bigger, more profound, that we are of worth and are beautiful,
That sometimes seems as close as my own breath but at others could be as far away as the sun.
And what about being a Christian……
I believe in Jesus as a revelation of God and God’s presence – for me Jesus of Nazareth was a human being, truly human, which means we are also of God and are capable of great things.
I believe Jesus came to show us the way, a transforming way to live, not to save us from our sin and take us somewhere else.
I believe in the essential goodness of humans and our evolving pathway over millions of years. And we are still evolving.
I believe Jesus calls us to love one another, and seek justice and peace for everyone, not just some. To stand beside those who are hurting and afraid. No one is to be excluded.
I believe it is a very difficult assignment to keep focussed on this way, alone, and we all need an ongoing connection to God, mentioned previously, plus others on the road with us.
Sometimes, both God and Jesus seem a long way away. As Frank Schaeffer says, sometimes he’s a Christian and sometimes he’s an Atheist, and that’s okay. Doubt means that while we take what we trust and believe seriously, life can often cloud things, and we can forget so easily what is in our heart. Yet amazingly it often rises to the surface, particularly if we take a time to rest and be still, and check our list. Suddenly we remember how to live in and with God. We find that much of the things that give our life meaning reveal the divine presence and deep sense of connection, unseen but ever present, nudging us along.
So Marcus Borg, who was the catalyst for this blog, has left an incredible legacy. Because he asks us to think about what we believe, what do we know of our own life, and what we trust in. And then he asks us to take our passion out into the world for the sake of others. And he asks us to see God and Jesus in all of that.
So there are plenty more things to add to my list, this is just a start, but I won’t bore you with mine. Write your own, and see that life, with all its ups and downs is still a beautiful life. And maybe just maybe within that list you will see glimpses of the spirit of God, working in the world and in you and me. For all things are holy. Maybe you will see the spirit of Jesus there. Sometimes we will, and others times we won’t.
And that’s okay! Its a journey and we are all on it. Even Marcus Borg.
Here is a beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer – “I Believe”, to finish.
I recently did something that made me stop and take notice of life around me. My mother died last year, after a long and eventful life, full of many joys, sorrows and challenges. She was a survivor, surviving the death of 2 husbands, and raising 4 children with very little money. Her only brother lived almost all his adult life in the UK, or more accurately around the world as a journalist for Reuters News Agency. He sadly passed away earlier this year, so within 6 months of one another both had gone. However, in their later years they became quite close, with various trips either out here to Perth by Alan or to the UK for my mum. One love they shared, almost from the time they could earn a quid, was racing, horse racing. They would discuss the jockeys, the trainers, the horses, and follow the various ups and downs of the industry, of course always having a small wager here and there. It was a love they shared until the very end, with mum in particularly reading the racing page over her morning tea in the hospital! I remember vividly many an afternoon spent at either Ascot or Belmont raceway, roaming the course while mum was in the betting ring, checking the odds (a time when that was not regarded as bad parenting!).
We had decided, as a family, that we would spread mum’s ashes at one of the racetracks if we were allowed. Amazingly Ascot raceway officials were very helpful, and agreed we could put mum’s ashes just off the track in line with the winning post, a very apt position for her.
As Allan shared this passion, his wife Doreen requested that Allan’s ashes join mums here in Australia and also at the track! So his ashes were carefully packaged and sent by airplane to Australia, where I was to pick them up and bring them home.
And this is where I started, because picking up the ashes of your Uncle is not an everyday occurrence. Particularly when the storeman hands you a box, and says, “here you are love, be careful”. Be careful!!! Of course I am going to be careful, it took them a while to find him so I wasn’t going to lose him now.
When I took him to my sister’s place, we opened the box, to find a plastic container inside. And inside the container was Allan’s ashes. Wow. There he was, or what was left of him, all the way from the UK. I had only seen him last year and now … It seems the wall between life and death is paper thin, one minute you are a living breathing reality, and the next, some ashes in a box. Seems hard to fathom it really. It made me ponder a question I have pondered often, since I was young. What makes us human, what makes us alive in the world? And what makes life meaningful? Okay, more than one question!
I was pondering all of this as I finished a book recently called “Breathe into Air” about a brilliant neuro surgeon/scientist, Paul Kalanithi, with an incredible career ahead of him who gets a terrible cancer and dies very young. Yet before he dies he writes a book about life, and death, and everything in between. He also asks these questions, but he writes initially from a position where he operates on the brain, and deals with patients with neurological conditions, and then from the perspective of someone dying. A little bit closer to the problem than me.
It is really is an amazing book, and makes the reader contemplate their humanity deeply. Well it did for me!
What is it that makes us human? What is it that makes life meaningful? He recounts his first contact with cadavers, dead people who have donated their bodies to science. It was an account that brought back my own experience, which lead me on a spiritual quest that has culminated in me being a part time Pastor in a Uniting Church. A long way from cutting up dead people! But even now I remember distinctly the feeling that I knew there was more to us as humans than what was lying on the table. Yes, we are blood and tissue, and joints and muscles and organs and skin, but we are also thoughts, and feelings, and hopes and dreams, and joys and sorrows, a subjective life that seems to stem not just from the physical world but from some culmination of all that we are. It led me, as it led Paul, to explore the nature of life, and the age old question of God or at least the idea there was something else going on here that cannot be seen or measured.
A journey that has taken a life time, but sometimes we don’t have a life time. That was the dilemma for Paul Kalanithi.
He crammed the meditations of a life time into 30 short years. In that time he had seen and was so close to the question. From when he was young he searched for what it was that made us, well us.
It led him to literature, philosophy, then to neuroscience.
And finally to neurosurgery, because for him moral speculation was puny compared to moral action, so he acted.
Amongst his experiences as a neuro surgeon, amongst his patients, who suffered and died and were changed, he delved into the questions of life, and meaning. I think what he discovered, with his patients and within himself, was that meaning and understanding is found in the messiness of real human life.
And that is where the rubber hits the road. As he writes, he had been a scientist all his life, yet “science is not enough to explain the existential, visceral nature of human life”. What made life meaningful even in the face of death and decay? I think the answer to that is Love!
What Paul found was that love and care for others, family and small things was what it meant to live a meaningful life. Even when everything was taken away from him there was still living to be done….
“because I would have to learn a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor, but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living”.
He also found that we are more than can be measured, what can be seen and operated on, we are more than blood and bone. “The most central aspects of our human life cannot be measured, “hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honour, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue”, and I would add, joy and compassion and forgiveness. “Between these core passions and scientific theory there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience”.
Funnily enough, he found that Jesus reflected this compassion for others and what he searched for about meaning in life was also found in a tradition he had left behind but rediscovered. Yes, he did go back to church!
But he does not suddenly take on the religion of certainty. Rather he determined that while no one human sees the total picture, “the basic reality of human life stands compellingly against blind determinism.”
So in the end it came down and comes down again and again, to relationships, love and love of and for others. It comes down to seeing each day as a gift, living in whatever way we can, and finding joy and gratitude in the smallest of events.
Paul Kalanithi found that he could not have his old life back, but had to find a new way of living, a gift a surgeon friend gave him during his treatment. But he had already gifted that to his patients. As he discovered “the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back and face, and make sense of their own existence.”
This is what he did. He worked until he could not, he had a child who he adored, he wrote this book, and he loved those around him for as long as he could.
Spirituality, or what gives us meaning and purpose in life, is a life lived for others, with others, in relationship and connection. Love is its central core.
For me, what it is to be human and what it is to be a Jesus follower, a believer in a divine presence that urges us to connect with one another in love, seems to be the same thing.
Living a life, however short, can show us that it’s as simple and as difficult as loving. Once we love, know love, give love, we will never find life meaning less.
You may not need to be a Jesus follower to get it, but sometimes it helps to have a guide.
I took the church service today, and the topic was forgiveness. Forgiveness, an easy word to say and a hard word to live out. I feel that so much of our Christian tradition has been tied up with not only forgiveness but with sin, how bad we are and how wonderful and forgiving God is. Yet, both statements leave an empty space that needs to be filled. We are not bad, we are wonderfully made, a glorious product of millions of years of evolution. But we are human, and are capable of such evil intent. God is wonderful but is also part of the created order, part of life itself, part of us as human beings. When we worship we worship something that is inherent in all of us, that drives us to love and grow and embrace others. When we falter, when we make mistakes, we look to each other for reconciliation and forgiveness, not to an external deity somewhere else. We look to the spirit within and amongst us to kindle the fire of love again, a spirit that never leaves, as though it might take a break, or worse still judge us as not worthy. God is not in the heavens forgiving or not forgiving, but in all of us, in all the created order, and being alive to it is one of the great gifts of the universe. For it can lead to wholeness in life for everyone.
Anyway, here is the sermon….
We live in a world that expects perfection. We are to have the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect children, and we are to be the perfect parents. Ouch, I think I might have failed there. I wanted the boys to be neat and tidy, alcohol abstainers and be great cooks. Instead I got two beer drinking long hair lads who leave their bath towels everywhere except in the bathroom. And can bbq but not much else. So much for perfection, luckily they are also loving and kind hearted, phew!
Yet seriously our expectation of ourselves and others is often so very, very high, it is impossible to achieve. We have a picture in our mind of what life and people should be like, and if our picture doesn’t match reality we immediately get into the judging game. It must be my poor parenting, rather than my boys being themselves. Or its Matts fault!
In fact, this notion of perfection, I should say this impossible notion of perfection, is actually very dangerous, affecting our mental health and wellbeing. It can lead to a permanent state of anxiety and stress and an inability to really forgive and start over. Aren’t they or we supposed to be perfect! I think this idea of perfection makes it much harder to forgive because people are not allowed to be, well people. We lose the ability to see that we and others are human and make mistakes, all the time.
Jesus was very big on forgiveness, it’s everywhere in the gospel accounts. Which is why I’ve always been suspicious of our traditional understanding of the resurrection as a forgiveness of sins. Jesus was busily doing it already, welcoming and including those regarded as outsiders, as sinners, and encouraging us to forgive one another. He brought forgiveness into the human realm, in a way that was inclusive and universal.
So his message is actually very freeing. Forgiveness is not part of some secret society, we don’t need a priest to do it, or a minister, we don’t even need God to forgive us, as though God will smite us if we don’t. From the reading it sounds like the writer of Matthew was suggesting that. But God is not in the sky watching over us, judging our behaviour, rather he is as close to us as our own breath, waiting for us to open our hearts to one another. It’s like we move toward the life giving light when we love and forgive, away from the light when we don’t. But the light remains. Jesus knew that forgiveness, both for the person in need of it and the person giving it, produces a wholeness that is not achieved otherwise. Without it we become a shell of what we should be as human beings. Life can become very dark and lonely.
I have seen this in my own family. I had an Aunty who did not speak to her oldest friend for 40 years, after some sort of disagreement. Towards the end of their lives I am sure they would not have known what the disagreement or slight was about. But families were torn apart because of it.
Situations like this can harden the heart of those involved, and lives are less than they should be.
So forgiveness is not a divine act, it’s a human act, but it gives a divine result. Forgiveness can lead to renewal and transformation and reconciliation and new life if we let it. What is more divine than that. When we forgive we head to the light, the light of love, rather than the darkness of despair. We are released from repeating the same mistake over and over again, trapped in a cycle of judgement that is never ending. For we can become disconnected to one another, and community can falter when forgiveness goes missing and judgement is found in its place.
As Frederick Buechner says..
“When someone you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience.
When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.
For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence.”
So it is not that Jesus expected us to be perfect, but to be human and whole. To see that we all make mistakes, and that we all need forgiveness sometimes. In turn we have to learn to forgive others, even if the person we are forgiving couldn’t give a toss. The point is not the expectation of something in return, but the act. It is a gift we can freely give and freely receive, and which can transform both parties.
As the reading suggests today, how much should we forgive, as much as it takes. For to be human and free, and whole, we have to forgive. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
And a little song from Carrie Newcomer, to keep us leaning in toward the light.
I am doing something new for this post, I am going to have a guest blogger!
Why, because I went to church today and one of our congregation gave a sermon about love and inclusion that everyone should read, whether you are in Australia, or anywhere else in the world. A message that touched us all, and why I love my community of fellow travellers so much.
So here it is, a sermon from Jodi.
The readings, if you are interested were these…
Isaiah 56: 1-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: 21-28
In Isaiah, God we hear of a God who does not discriminate. All people are welcome in God’s house. Gods house is a place of welcome and prayer for all of God’s children, including those who have been specifically excluded – in Isaiah’s time that meant foreigners and eunuchs. Acceptability to God is not defined by ethnicity or sexuality, but by keeping the Sabbath and holding fast to the covenant.
When you were the chosen people, the ones delivered to the promised land, to be told that acceptability is not defined by ethnicity must have been a pretty big call. In Romans, Paul is trying to make it clear to the people that God has not abandoned the Jewish people, God’s compassion is available to all who believe, no matter their heritage. God wants to have compassion towards all people.
Throughout time there seems to have been a continual struggle over people’s historical and traditional view of who is acceptable to God. Times change, the world that 94 year old Ron grew up in was very different to the world that I grew up in and that world is not same as the world of today that 3 year old Josephat is growing up in. Whilst our traditions and cultural heritage are important and help to shape us, we also have to ensure that we are living a life that holds true to our Christian values but is also alive and relevant to todays world. Sometimes this requires us to reflect on what we believe and question our reasoning.
In todays reading from Matthew, the Gentile woman’s shouting disturbs Jesus’ disciples, but he ignores her – not the sort of response we’re used to from Jesus. When he finally speaks to her, his words are dismissive and insulting – again, not what we would expect. But with courage and humour the woman leads Jesus to change his mind – and to expand his mission beyond Israel. “Woman, how great is your faith!” Jesus exclaims, and clearly Matthew presents her as an example for his community and for us. It‘s in this spirited encounter with a woman who refuses to have her daughter’s value diminished that Jesus comes to a new understanding. It is in meetings like this, with people on the margins, that new wisdom and compassion are found.
The abandonment of prejudice, the crossing of the traditional boundary, is the good news of the story and why it was told. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Jesus, himself, had to make a transition, had to learn. His response was more typical of the rather conservative Judaism of the time. Jesus was human, too. Here we see that that he was a product of his environment, just like we are influenced by our upbringing. But just like Jesus we can change our views when confronted. This can be a very confronting process. Sometimes it is total strangers who cause us to confront our beliefs but more often than not it is the people we know and love.
Slaves used to be quite acceptable and predominantly black people were exploited. Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to supposedly give the children a better life. It was not that long ago that divorce was frowned upon and was a bit of a scandal within the church. Within my lifetime, unmarried mothers had their children taken away from them. They were hidden away, marginalised and shamed. Refugees running from the horrors of their homeland come seeking a better life and here in Australia we lock them up. The bible can be used to justify and confirm all kinds of discrimination. However, we tend to use an interpretive lens to ensure that historical and cultural bias do not prevent us from loving and accepting everyone.
Today we debate marriage equality. I have read a couple of articles recently from conservative ministers who talk about why they have changed their minds. The key point seems to be that facts and rational argument don’t change people’s minds, it is listening to the experiences of others that really makes the difference.
Just as Jesus listened to the Gentile woman and her faith made him change his mind, so too we need to listen and get to know the refugees and aboriginal people, the gay community, those with mental health issues. When we know and love those marginalised as our friends then equality is not something that we can debate in the abstract. The debate becomes about real people.
The attached picture says it all, Science is real, black lives matter, no human is illegal, love is love, women’s rights are human rights and kindness is everything. This is the way we are called to live, in the 21st century!
This blog is a revisiting of one I wrote when I was away. One I wrote that I subsequently lost due to a random click on the computer by me. Yes, I did that awful thing of editing what I had written because I wanted to split the blog into two and then saving without renaming, and ended up losing the original, ouch!
Anyway I would still like to revisit the disappeared one, so here it is, reconstituted.
This blog is inspired in part by a guy called Rob Bell, a favourite of mine in so many ways. He started out as a leader in the evangelical movement in the US, in charge of a mega church with thousands of people, a darling of the religious right. Then he had an epiphany, and realised that what he was preaching about Christianity, about heaven and hell, and who was going where, just didn’t fit with the message of Jesus. So he left his mega church, renounced the trappings of his position, the power and the popularity and the money, wrote a book called “Love Wins” and started a journey to a more open exploring faith. In the process he went from the darling of the evangelical movement to its enemy, and you only have to look on facebook to see how much they now attack him for being a traitor to the cause.
While being an author, Rob Bell also does podcasts, where he interviews a wide selection of people, from varied faith traditions to explore what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century. Recently one of those podcasts caught my attention in a big way! Just before I left I listened to Rob interview a guy called Peter Rollins, a philosopher and theologian from Belfast, with a wonderful accent, a dry sense of humour and an incredible and deep interest in the “God “question.
Rob Bell and Peter Rollins did 4 podcasts together, where they talked about God and of course about Christianity and about spirituality in our world and time. They were great, but the third one in particular made me sit up and take notice. It was on the absurdity of faith and in particular the absurdity of the Christian faith. It really struck a chord.
Of course faith seems totally absurd in our modern, scientific world where everything is measured and what can’t be measured can’t be true. But somehow Jesus is the ultimate absurdity, even after 2,000. Traditionally the people of the first century were expecting a Messiah, a messenger from God, to come and rescue them, to put things right, to punish the wicked and reward the righteous, and turn around the world. To renew creation by power and might.
And what did they get?
What they got was a humble, peasant carpenter, quite possibly illiterate, but who could teach and tell stories and parables, who revealed the creative presence of God in the world and showed those who listened how to bring light rather than darkness and despair, who called for community, equity and justice, and who died a horrible death on a cross.
What, that can’t be right! Where is the power and might?
Jesus, in his life, in his words and deeds, represented the powerless, not powerful, and called for forgiveness over retribution, peace over violence and most essentially love over hate. The reason Jesus was killed is quite simple really, but we complicate it with rules and beliefs that exclude and divide, and he would be probably horrified. He challenged those with power and those in power responded by getting rid of this radical, scandalous messenger.
Or so they thought!
Before Jesus died he called his listeners to join in and follow him.
And that’s the amazing thing! They did and still do.
Regardless of what you think about the resurrection, literal, spiritual, or something else, Jesus’s life and teachings still resonate with people today, as they have done for centuries. The call is still there! Changing people’s lives, and the lives of those around them, inspiring them to give up things to make the world or their little bit of the world better. His message still has the power to speak to people today and completely transform them. Jesus revealed and continues to reveal life’s hidden mystery. Of God’s renewing power and presence within each one of us that can make a difference, and when we enter the stream of that mystery we can live lives of freedom and joy. We become better more complete people.
This may sound absurd today when what we hear mostly is that money and possession or jobs define us. But that’s not really true. What defines us best is how we love one another, and that includes ourselves, and what we contribute. And we have an urge within each one of us to do this if we listen to this persistant inner voice. Which is why Jesus’s message, while absurd to many modern ears, strikes a chord to others. But it’s not about getting to heaven, it’s about living the best way we can here and now.
Rob Bell realised that the type of Christianity he was presenting, that you have to believe and act a certain way to be in the group, otherwise you were definitely out, and not just out but lost forever, seemed horrible and out of step with its founder. In fact it seemed more in step with modern society that says the things which divide us are greater than those that connect us. So he left. To become a Jesus follower, to preach the Jesus way. An absurd decision and one in which he had to give up a lot.
As for little old me, I could be following the standard route as a scientist but I have chosen to follow a slightly crazy path, serving a small Uniting church congregation in Wembley Downs while combining it with secular employment. Recently I have had the opportunity to break away, giving up the church work altogether to do a Phd in Anatomy and Human Biology and finally be a proper scientist! Mmm, tempting!
Yet somehow that is not what my heart is saying.
Like Rob Bell, it seems totally absurd but I am about to commit for another 3 years to this small, but very active congregation, as long as they will have me, and leave thoughts of Phds behind. Certainly scientific ones. As one friend said, I will have to be a Dr in a parallel universe! Thoughts of Dr Who!
But it opens up a new path, which feels exciting and really quite freeing.
After walking the Camino again, a great time for reflection, I realise I want to show those that will listen that all things in life are not clear and measureable. That the path or journey of faith is one worth following. And that the way and teachings of Jesus gives us a glimpse of that path. Even in the 21st century. Perhaps this is what I have been waiting for all my life!
Absurd as it seems!