In the womb

Two wombs make space

Although being a non-reflecting sort of person I always love the seasons such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Just gives a little pause to think and be thankful. Also this year being a year of focused writing that has centred in on the life of Jesus as the one who was fully God and truly human I have had to consider how he grew up, certainly not the baby in the manger who ‘no crying he made’. Brings me to consider the virgin birth.

I accept the virgin birth though so little is made of it in the Scriptures. Paul with all his writings does not mention it, nor Hebrews. Maybe Paul did not know about it, maybe it was always understood as a symbol? If that was the case I could accept that for there does not seem to be any level of appeal to the virgin birth theologically in Scripture. The theology seems in some way tied to a particular approach to sin and perhaps also to sex. (The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew does not put together a ‘pure’ line: neither racially nor sexually.)

What is clear is we are not reading some kind of myth of a god encountering a young woman and through some sexual act an offspring comes forth, a demi-god. The narrative pushes us right away from that, indeed it pushes us in a feminine direction with two ‘wombs’. The womb of a young woman, and at the same time the womb of the Holy Spirit. I am not suggesting that the Holy Spirit is female any more than I suggest that ‘God’ is male. I am simply suggesting that the imagery surrounding the virgin conception is feminine. Mary makes room for the baby; the Holy Spirit likewise makes room for the incarnation. It all happened through the overshadowing, brooding, creative shaping energy of the Spirit. Just as creation came forth by the word spoken into the brooding shape of the Spirit; just as the early disciples in the upper room were overshadowed by the same brooding presence; in that same manner comes forth a male child, born of a woman, born under the law.

Not much in the narrative that features the male presence.

What a wonderful act. Although the original Christmas was unlikely to have occurred at this time of year, here we are just breaking into the days getting longer (northern hemisphere of course) and with one eye on the new year, so I find Christmas… the brooding presence of the Spirit making room for new beginnings. Not an immediate birth, but a normal human process begins. What a combination. A natural process with aches, pains, inconvenience and participation between the divine and the human.

Reflecting back on Gayle’s post of a few days ago. Time to make any adjustments that are needed. Light is here. Clouds will come. Sight is possible to set a direction, even when sight will become less clear. A process will continue.

Twins are born having been carried in one womb. A (non-literal) birth from heaven is carried in two wombs.

Looking back… way back

When one is young looking back 20 years is such a long time ago. I had an email asking me for some reflections relating to a period of time 20+ years ago. For me ‘a long time back’ so that helps me live out another day of fantasy. I am really still ever so young.

It was interesting though to respond, as for me (and also Gayle) that era was so formative of who we are. It gave me a fresh appreciation of how God can transform a life, the reality of the Spirit, that fire spreads etc. Deeply appreciative, and of course (like everyone else) I see where I am today as a result of the path(s) that I have been led on. Maybe a little (and remember ‘little’ is a small word) more humble that suggests that if I have any (hope ‘any’ is not a small word) integrity it is the path I have been led on, without suggesting it is THE path. Jesus is the way, but the path seems to be uniquely honed for each person (not to be read as all paths lead to God… I am talking about one’s life).

I think there were expressions back in that day that could not really go further because they were not multi-racial nor multi-cultural. There is something of fullness that can only come through with a greater ethnic, generational and gender expression. But beyond that there were expressions that had to come to an end, had to come to an end as the post-Christian and post-Christendom (and pre-Christian) era demands that.

Twenty plus years ago, any view of the ‘afar off’ was to see them as those who needed to join ‘us’ or ‘our children’. The ‘afar off’ though are to be joined by ‘us’ (and for ‘us’ who can’t make the journey, by ‘our children’). (Illustrated as per Peter and Cornelius). The catalytic nature of 20+ years ago opens everything up for where we are now in the West. An increasing exhalation of the breath of God. It will be felt in the vicinity of where it is being experienced.

History teaches and we learn; history holds us back and prevents us seeing what we have never seen. History is a foundation; history prevents development.

The last paragraph can be deleted. It is our response to history that is determinative.

A ‘decrease so that there might be an increase’ has to be embraced willingly. When there is a decrease but not embraced willingly some debris is left in the path and it is more difficult for what should appear that is ‘greater’. Not greater by status but ‘greater distance’ as in beyond.

Twenty plus years ago. Deeply appreciative. Twenty more years – full of anticipation.

Going beyond the [B]ook

For the past few weeks I have been lamenting, well occasionally reflecting. I am not very good at reflecting, and as for lamenting – not even too sure I know what the word means.

My reflectful lament has been over the four books written so far – the two you all rushed to buy and the two in the pipeline for publication. I have realised that the readership will be predominantly people like me (not the majority world). People who have a strong background in the evangelical (and likely charismatic) world but are willing to consider concepts that some think are outside the box. I am not going to get an atheist to read them and desire to join a zoom group, but I sure would love honest dialogue in that direction. Not to ‘convert’ them (when was that part of the job description of the Great Commission?) but to present Jesus as the ‘face’ of God and as the ‘face’ of ‘actualised’ humanity – OK theologically ‘true humanity’.

So I have made a start at writing for that audience, and also for those who do not position themselves completely at that end of the spectrum of faith / non-faith. (The other audience I would love to dialogue with are those born after 1980, so help me God!) I am not writing an apologetic, there are others much better equipped at that, but trying to write something that is open and transparent. It is interesting in trying to do that cos one’s own presuppositions have to be challenged in the process. A few days ago I said to a friend / neighbour who expressed (past tense) he was an atheist, and then (present tense) ‘I would like to believe, but…’, that perhaps faith wise I need him as much as he needs me. I need him to challenge my faith, cos although faith cannot explain everything it must have substance.

I am planning an opening chapter on Jesus and a second one on our holy book, the Bible. In doing so I wrote the obvious concerning Jesus that he grew up in a prejudiced world, that was also fed by an interpretation of the holy scrolls that he looked to. It is hard to believe Jesus also did not have biased perspectives, particularly with respect to Gentiles and women. Scripture clearly says he ‘became mature’ through what he learned, and as I have written in an earlier post he is the great teacher because he was the GREAT LEARNER. It is amazing that he broke through beyond the culture and his own preconceived perceptions. To be fully mature by 33, and in that culture… Here I am all-but double that age and… (Any way to follow this through the interaction with Gentiles and women is very informative to observe the learning process in Jesus.)

The guidance that the holy scrolls gave Jesus is instructive for us and the guidance we receive from the Bible. Today I wrote:

Jesus was so far ahead of his culture and setting, and that his holy book (set of scrolls) both helped to shape his life and thoughts and at the same time restricted his progress. And of course this is something we have to consider also when we as Christians read our holy book, the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments.

Never articulated it like this before, but seemed obvious as the words appeared on my screen. We are very grateful for Scripture. Jesus must have been so grateful as he meditated on texts and saw in them his true identity and destiny. I am not sure if the right word is ‘balance’, but let me use that. We have to balance that invaluable guide that the Scriptures are with the realisation that we can also be restricted by the pages we read. Of course there are good restrictions, but there are also restrictions that prevent us moving beyond the pages. Yes beyond. For the Scriptures are to speak of Jesus, not of themselves, and Acts 28 is an unfinished record of the continuation of what Jesus is doing and teaching. A progression beyond has to faithfully follow the trajectory set out but if the whole journey is not described in the pages we have to go beyond.

Set in sight

Its me again, I get the green font which I do love. Green is life!

I’m not a stickler for traditions (!) And I know it’s traditional to reflect back on a year and tease out a word for the new one however, just this once, I’m feeling like conforming! So, to stick to a tradition, I’d like to mark time.

2020 vision. We definitely have seen a lot this year. We’ve had to look closely at ourselves, what we’re doing and how, who matters and what really motivates us. We’ve looked at our priorities and as society we’ve realised that our nurses and doctors and shop workers are far more important than the billionaires and the stock brokers. Our football heroes were idle and useless and the nameless were acknowledged (hopefully not fleetingly) for their real value.

In the last days of this sight-filled year I think we need to cast our eyes far forward. As though on a mountaintop, we have a moment now to look forward and to reset our direction. A moment to spy destination and to set the compass with a long term goal, think 10 years. The smallest of reset now, the slightest change of position, in ten years will place us in a very different place. I’m talking personally but I think the same moment is there for bodies of people, organisations and businesses where there is a niggling feeling that the traditional way forward won’t cut it.

2021 I think, won’t be so clear, down off the mountaintop and into the clouds below and the valleys but I think with direction set and with courage, we will find ourselves stumbling a bit, but making progress towards that new destination, finding new companions on the way, some unexpected delights and a whole lot of joy.

Thoughts on JP

JP… Jordan Peterson. Thoughts on a genius by me!!! Stop laughing. He was described in 2018 by the New York Times as, ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world’; in the same newspaper I was described as – Oh no, I am still looking for what they said about me, google clearly is not what it used to be.

In the run up I did a ‘what level is my English test’ (Macmillan Readers Level Test) and came out at B2, with the comment, ‘With an upper intermediate level (B2), you could potentially work in an English-speaking environment, so this practice is very concrete. … It includes tasks that measure your listening and reading skills, as well as your range of English grammar and vocabulary skills.’ Did not surprise me… I can read something if I have listened first to the author, but struggle to read something that is new.

Nice to know I could do something potentially, but I preface this with the knowledge that the comments below are not exactly going to mean he will quickly need to revise what he has written! I watched the now-famous interview by Cathy Newman of Jordan P and realised that there was only one winner. Imagine me interviewing him and catching him out. In my dreams, but in reality might be a bit of a nightmare.

Peterson seems to have a right wing, neo-liberal stance that defends hierarchy (after all lobsters are hierarchical and we are evolved from them…), and refuses to bow at the feet of political correctness, thus insisting that (e.g.) any pay gap between male and female is due to a number of factors, and so will not engage with the ‘we need to correct this with a feminising of the context’ kind of approach.

Anyway what follows will be a few comments that might be way off the mark but what the heck here goes!

Like all (self included) who are committed to, or influenced by, a level of ideology, ideology can determine our response, and we tend to see those who adopt the opposing ideology as wrong, attributing to them aspects that they probably do not fully (or at all) endorse. This was the blatant issue in Cathy Newman’s interview or, if not the issue, it was that he is so incredibly intelligent and good with words that he avoided every trap she set for him. I come at the whole thing from quite a different ideology – his is thought through, mine…????

I am not a Marxist (who knows what I would be if I were able to read intelligently) so do not write to defend ‘Karl’. Peterson states that particularly after the horrors of Stalinism that ‘no thinking person could be a Marxist’. With this as a foundation he goes on to talk about the unreachable ‘equality of outcome’ in all spheres for all people. Something of a straw target, methinks here. Most Marxists (and neo-Marixsts) are opposed to the communism that was exhibited in most communistic states, viewing them as nothing less than state-capitalism, rather than some form of democratic socialism. To propose that there are injustices in the system, that oppressive hierarchies exist does not make someone a Marxist, and certainly not an advocate for Stalinism. I do not see how the French revolution, the American revolution, not to mention the Protestant reformation, could escape his (to me) seeming critique of reacting to the oppressions present within the Western world. Those responses were not motivated by a Marxist ideology!

Peterson suggests he believes in an ‘equality of opportunity’ but not that of ‘equality of outcome’. The latter he says is the drum beat of the left, and into that he (rightly) says that gender is one factor among a number that means the outcome is one of consistent pay differentials and opportunities between males and females in the working world. It seems that one suggestion he makes is that females should be less agreeable(!!) and then there would be more females in the positions where they are not currently present. He also claims that there is no, or insufficient, empirical evidence to suggest where there is a feminisation of the environment there is any shift.

He is right to oppose a solution if it were based on a simplistic analysis such as he seems to suggest is made by feminists. He is right to oppose an imposition from (the left) on the rest, thus insisting on pc speech while silencing freedom of speech. However… oh the word ‘however’. By responding as he does one of those factors (gender) that is an acknowledged factor (even by him) that affects pay differentials is effectively silenced. When I read Scripture God responds to the voice from the oppressed, the marginalised, the ones who are resisting the voice of those who are in a hierarchical position and are holding that position to perpetuate keeping others in their subjected position. If gender is one of the factors then that has to be addressed, and the critique from those who are on the ‘underside’ needs to direct the dialogue not those who are in the power position.

It brings me to his justification of hierarchy. In reality all people believe in ‘hierarchy’ in the sense that no-one suggests that children are ‘equal’ to parents, to teachers. Most also believe in some authorities that need be submitted to (it is not police that is objected to, for example, but any police abuse of power). To suggest that we should expect – from the lobster and up – hierarchies but not critique the kind / the effect of current hierarchies, nor consider that the healthy changes that have taken place in history with shifts in hierarchies (slavery, for example) seems to me lacking in real openness. From my little world, the challenge currently is that of the nature of power and how it is exercised, the kind of power that is rooted in Imperialism seems to be in total conflict with the Jesus-model of ‘not so among you’.

He is both helpful and unhelpful when he critiques the scapegoating of a system. He is helpful in that if we live with a blaming culture there is no progress, so we are to take responsibility for ourselves. However, it remains that opportunities are not equal, the system is biased in favour of some. The level of education that can be accessed, the level of finances inherited, the context one lives within all present us with boundaries. There are always wonderful stories of people who made it out of a difficult situation, who rose to the ‘top’ (what kind of word is that?) in spite of their background. Yet the majority with those challenges do not, and more importantly, cannot follow suit. (This has always been the case in the imperial system, there are enough testimonies to the freedom the empire offers to perpetuate the myth.)

I have no doubt that a number of people (young men in particular) have found his ’12 rules’ incredibly life changing. However (however, again?), however to consider that what is present in our society, in the light of the Gospel vision, is defensible I do not consider that we should think of the book nor his contributions as giving us much sight into what we should be pushing into.

I rest my case… all written at a B2 level, so cannot be opposed!

This time – it is the end

COVID-19; no-deal Brexit a real possibility; recount the election AGAIN; Jewish group not happy with arms deal to UAE; Santa on strike and no Christmas pudding in the shops. Any combination of the above of course can be read as signs of the times that the end is here within view.

There could be an end in view of course with democracy being repeatedly challenged, or the possible economic outcome of a non-deal for the UK, or if the virus is only the first of a number to whack us this century. End of the world? No, but the end of certain states of play as we have them. That has always been the case and societal endings are often amidst crisis, something giving way for something else to rise in its place, either something better or worse.

I have completed four books – two waiting publication – and am just hanging around a little before finding the right direction for the final three. I intend them to be on our future hope, but with a flashy title of course. Not sure what to write as on many of the classic themes (Middle Eastern conflict; Armageddon; great persecution; rapture; millennium; antiChrist) I think the Bible is either silent or quite eloquent as to why we really should not go there. If I go down the silence of Scripture route not a lot of material for a series of three books – simply a page in large print with the words from the parenthesis above and then a dash and the word NOT following it.

So while hanging around, a short little explanation here. There are ‘horizons’ in view in Scripture. (Back in the day writers such as George Ladd gave a helpful way of describing the Jews with one horizon, a future that marked the two epochs of ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’, which the NT separated the division yet further with the kingdom being ‘already but not yet’. Helpful but over-simplified. Reading the Scriptures even more consistently as historic-narrative N.T. Wright, and even more radically Andrew Perrimann, opens up a slightly more complex view – one horizon becomes further divided.)

Although it is not totally accurate to say ‘the Jews believed…’ as there were diverse beliefs among Jews, but ignoring that caveat the Jews believed in a future horizon, when Messiah would appear and there would be a total re-ordering of the world (NB: not much ‘going off to heaven’ going on here; we have the Greeks to thank for that angle.) Simplistically we could suggest they had a horizon in view; a one-horizon view.

Along comes the Incarnation and for those who believed he was the Messiah, certainly post-the-cross the one-future-horizon was inadequate. Looking back from the resurrection they understood that what took place over that period of time from the first Christmas to the first Easter was a horizon. It was a dramatic intervention of God in the world, into the Jewish context, and at a very specific time, when there was an all but one-world government that was opposed to the values of God, that oppressed all. Peace established through war, so much so that the temple to ‘Peace’ (goddess) was on Mars Hill (Mars being the god of war!). [Netflix have a great series on the Roman Empire that gives some good insights into it.]

That intervention marked something incredible for there was the revelation of who the God who created all things really was. The cross being one of the places where that glory was revealed, hence the self-emptying of Jesus (Phil. 2) can only be understood as a revelation of the eternal nature of God, not something taken on for a short season. (If not yet read I think that Thomas J. Oord, Uncontrolling Love, is so worth a read.)

That first horizon had enormous implications for the world. But first, huge implications for the Jewish world. Into that world came the proclamation of no other name under heaven by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12); not the name of Abraham, the patriarchs, David the idealised king. None of them can do it… this is picked up in Revelation 5 in what I reverently term cartoon form. When we read the New Testament in its historic context, with the majority certainly written before the calamitous era of 66-70AD, we necessarily read the pages somewhat differently. It is not about our day, nor about our future… but is deeply significant for our day and our future.

Leads us to that second horizon that now comes in view. Jesus spoke of a future that would happen within a generation, that the events would be climactic and therefore when it came to fleeing to pray the flight might not be in winter or on the Sabbath – all of which are speaking into a specific geography and a specific time of history. No reason to push it to our future, but to understand it as the foreseeable future of those hearers, and that was the horizon that the early followers of Jesus had understood him to be speaking of. The horizon that culminates a generation after that first Easter. In the final days of that time when, as predicted, ‘the armies shall surround Jerusalem’ the Romans were crucifying up to 500 Jews on a daily basis by the city walls so as those inside knew that their days were numbered. The upside was that this was the sign of the Son of Man coming (Daniel 7), but that upside was an upside in marking the end of an era in terms of the intervention of history, the actual era of history was indeed very painful for the ‘elect’ those who were part of the chosen nation, but had not aligned with the truly elect one.

Given that our writings are pre-70AD whenever we come to future references such as Paul in 2 Thessalonians (maybe 52AD) concerning the ‘man of sin’ there is again no reason to push something beyond the lifetime of the readers, to something that had no reference to their time and setting. I still see such events as past for us, future for them and sitting in that same period of time before the second horizon came fully into view.

A third horizon though does seem to persist through all the writings, and I think it is the horizon that inspires the hope that comes through in Revelation. The book might well have had an initial write in the mid-60s but I stick with a late date (maybe 96AD) for the book as we have it. After the Jewish wars. The focus has switched, the Temple has gone, not one stone upon another left… but the beast has continued, indeed survived against all odds on numerous occasions but particularly in that ‘year of the four emperors’ that took place in the midst of the tumultuous era of the Jewish Wars. Mortal wounds to the head, but continues – that was the story and continues to be the story.

So time to bring this post to its appointed end. ‘Do I believe in a future antiChrist?’ Perhaps and probably as history witnesses to many antiChrists (past) in both limited and all-but universal situations. There is always a tendency to ‘make a name for ourselves’ towers to be raised, along with the witness of Scripture that they will never reach heaven and be permanent. ‘Do I think the Bible predicts a future antiChrist?’ No. No more than it predicted Judas Iscariot, but when the time came it easily said that he fulfilled the Scripture.

Well that would be some of the content to appear somewhere in books 5-7, along with references to the books of Scripture that show how there were clear predictions and also a recording of the history related to the predictions, yet the predictions were not fulfilled. A shocker? Or a nice indicator that prediction like that is not the area that Scripture deals with – rather the category of ‘promise’. Now there’s a thought – fulfilments of Scripture that look nothing like they were predicted. Might just get on with writing those books.

Volume 3 – an extract

Each volume builds on the former and each time Scott presents something so amazing…’ OK that’s the sales blurb, the real blurb is not quite at that level! It is great doing Zoom calls with people and if I were to write the books after the calls there would certainly be some re-writing involved – and I so thought they were inerrant as originally given.

Anyway – volume 2 is out:

Volume 3 is pretty close to ready to go to the final edit and then to the publishers. It is called ‘A Subversive Movement’, building on vol 2 (the political – small ‘p’ – nature of the ekklesia within the Imperial world). I try to move away from the popular ‘seven mountains of influence’ but address such aspects of how would the Gospel help us approach some of the shaping areas of society. In the chapter on Law and order, which I suggest appeals to some Christians as the right / wrong paradigm seems a good fit… However,

  • I suggest the more biblical paradigm is that of life / death, and that the right / wrong paradigm originates in the garden of Eden and where it all went wrong;.
  • That the very strength of (for example) Islamic sharia law is the desire among Christians to get the right / wrong agenda legislated for. Ah well!!

I have over the past two days added a short discourse on ‘Law-Breaking’, civil disobedience if you like. The books are short discussions so I do not cover every aspect but here is the excerpt (there are footnotes in the document – I include them here in brackets):


‘Obey the powers, for they are ordained of God’ (loose translation of Romans 13: 1), is used to hold us all in check, but it is doubtful if that is what Paul intended. The passage cannot be taken in an absolute fashion that will never have any exceptions. (Footnote: One of the early Christian martyrs, Polycarp, makes it clear how he read the passage in Romans. Replying to the Roman proconsul he said, “You I might have considered worthy of a reply, for we have been taught to pay proper respect to rulers and authorities appointed by God, as long as it does us no harm; but as for these, I do not think they are worthy, that I should have to defend myself before them.” Polycarp adds some provisos: whether the authorities are worthy and if it does not do harm to the Christian faith.) The immediate context forbids taking a violent stance against powers, (Footnote: Romans 12: 14-21. It seems false to claim that Jesus and the early Christians were pacifists, if by that we mean they did not resist. Resist they did, but the resistance was of a non-violent resistance. The activist, Gandhi, in resisting the British oppressive rule took inspiration from the practice of Jesus.) but the verses that follow (our chapter 13) are contextually written and contain a measure of irony within them. The command to pay taxes was written in the historical context when there was much debate and public unrest with regard to taxation within the city of Rome. (Footnote: The Roman historian, Tacitus, writes of this unrest as coming to a head in 58AD; Paul’s letter to the Romans is normally dated 56 or 57AD.) This is not to suggest that there is no application of these verses beyond the historical context, but to indicate that the letter is written to a specific situation at a specific time. Then with regard to the seeming endorsement of the use of the ‘sword’ by the civil powers there is quite some irony in what he writes. The emperor at the time, Nero, made the claim that he did not need to use the sword to enforce order, such was the benevolent and developed rule that he exercised. (Footnote: The Roman philosopher Seneca (4BC – 65AD) said of Nero that his gift was of ‘a state unstained by blood, and your prideful boast that in the whole world you have shed not a drop of human blood is the more significant and wonderful because no one ever had the sword put into his hands at an earlier age.’ If only that was the case!) Right in the heart of the chapter Paul writes:

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason (Rom. 13: 4).

In that verse there is a little side-swipe at the lie Imperial power tells. Comply and there will be no ‘sword’, but for those who do not comply? (And given that Paul was probably executed under Nero’s rule shows the irony in the claim that rulers only exercise the sword to punish the wrongdoer!) Any reading of Romans 13 needs to be placed alongside a reading of Revelation 13 where the true nature of Imperial rule is exposed, and all kinds of marginalisation takes place for the non-compliant ones.

Shakespeare wrote an oft-repeated line:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks (from the play ‘Hamlet’).

I suggest we might coin a new phrase that ‘we, the privileged do not protest enough’. There is cautious wisdom within those chapters in Romans dealing with life at the centre of the Empire. Advice such as pay what you owe (13: 6,7) or to live at peace with all, as far as is possible (12: 18) makes good sense in the context. We might paraphrase it as, ‘Choose how you protest, for in your context any protest will have significant repercussions.’ We see the same practical advice regarding marriage in the Corinthian context that Paul gave ‘because of the present crisis’ (1 Cor. 7: 25). Those early Christians living in the seemingly all-powerful world of the Roman empire were indeed living in a time of extreme pressure, and they needed to think carefully about how they responded.

The same practical advice is relevant today, but for those of us whose lives are not threatened by the majority of our actions, we need to consider how best to use that luxury. To protest against persecution, climate crisis and the oppression of voices that challenge the status quo in certain parts of our globe could well be life-threatening. That is not a reason in itself not to protest in those situations, but any response needs to be taken soberly and wisely. However, in other parts of the world (mine included) the luxury of protesting without the consequence of one’s life being threatened means we would have to consider reasons why we would not add our voice and physical presence to those who are protesting and calling for an end to injustice

Such protest might be seen as ‘law-breaking’ but the push back against injustice requires a higher allegiance than that of complying. One might suggest that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not exactly compliant with Roman or Jewish custom and law! It was indeed a political act against all dominant political power.

New Zoom Group

I am looking to start a new Zoom discussion group in January. It will either be evenings or weekend. One chapter a week.

Details of what goes on:

I am probably looking for 2-4 more people to make the group viable. So far (so don’t let the side down!!!!!!!!) the discussions have been very diverse, provocative and helpful. I am not looking for people to agree with me, nor those who are totally opposed, but where there is sufficient room for mutual exploration. Obviously one has to have a copy of the book!

Let me know if this is of interest.

(I will also be starting groups on Significant Other from January, but I consider that the first book needs to have been read first.)

Small acts

Two cents worth

In editing a chapter in Volume 3 (surely it will be even better than Volumes 1 and 2?) I looked up the references that I was alluding to. I was referencing the widow who put her last couple of pence in the offering. I had written:

Perhaps, in Scripture, the widow who put her small contribution into the Temple treasury made a much bigger contribution than she realised. Did her sacrifice accelerate the coming to an end of such a magnificent and impressive structure?

The chapter I was editing is on how small acts being the catalyst for change, suggesting that although there are times when there are believers who shape the future and are appointed to the realm of the high and mighty (Daniel), that the movement of the ekklesia is a subversive movement, many times unseen and unrecognised. So in tidying the chapter up I thought I would go read the text (never a bad idea!). Here’s what I noticed.

The end of Luke 20 is a rebuke on the religious hierarchy. Jesus’ strongest rebukes were always reserved for those people for they were not releasing the human agency of God to serve their purpose but were in fact using them to serve their own ends, and in the process they,

devour widow’s houses (Luke 20: 47).

In the name of religion they exploit and impoverish those that the law said were to be protected. In the next chapter the opening verses that immediately follow this exposure of what is going on is the story of the widow depositing her last coins in the temple offering:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4).

They devour widows’ houses, as Jesus looked up he saw… Then the disciples saw how wonderful the Temple was, how magnificient (Luke 21:5). Jesus provoked them to look to what was going to happen within a few years:

As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (Luke 21:6).

Religion, those at the top… a widow exploited and at the bottom… acting with integrity… her offering was far beyond what anyone else put in to protect and beautify the structure yet even more… she did something of eternal value… what was temporal now had a sell by date stamped on it.

Letting People In

Compassion Fatigue

A new post by Gaz

As a self proclaimed introvert, I have had to learn to find the sweet fruits that are within relationships and social environments. There is much written about such animals as myself and our need for ebb and flow, to flow out and to retreat back to the place of nurture. It is a necessary but also most bizarre dance to have to learn and navigate lest we become isolated, limited and over domesticated by our chosen cave, because the wild, the unscheduled happenings, the joyous being acted upon by others, is beyond our door.

I remember doing mainstream counselling against the advice of my sectarian Christian counter parts, since it was insufficiently sanctified (controlled and safe). 

I chose to be stretched on many fronts, my openness, my vulnerabilities and imposed limitations of the culture of my chosen faith. In year two we had to choose a working partner for the year and submit to the lecturers why we were making such a selection. Mine was that I wanted to be paired with a female, since such things were not permitted in my world (having been told as a youth pastor that you meet a female co worker with the door open and if you have to be in the same car, she sits in the back). 

I was very Southern in my cultural trappings and she was exceptionally Northern, it was awesome to spend time with her and bare our souls in the context of our work objectives. We needed to attend a long weekend away twice a year to get the sufficient number or course hours in and on this one occasion my co-worker did not show up. In the sessions I was feeling withdrawn and unable to engage, and at one moment I was triggered by the session and needed to go sit outside and simply cry. After a while the lecturer came and sat with me and said to me “you don’t really ‘do’ people do you, but your trying to let them in. Is there anything different about this time away which has gotten under your skin, reached into your insides?”

I had no idea really, as I was experiencing something deep in my being which was outside my rational minds ability to control, supress or articulate. “ I am aware that your co-worker of several months isn’t here… could it be that you have let someone in, that you are feeling the loss of them in this part of our journey together”? The snot and tears that ensued suggested that she was on the money, on target and correct.  

What she said next was transformative for me. “ I feel that the kind of person you are, but also your journey so far, has made you able to get by and survive without allowing too many people to get into your insides. What you don’t realise is that you have found a way to survive but to truly live, you have need of people, and what you are experiencing is loss, and even in this moment, grief because they are not here. To be complete, you have to let others in, and perhaps at times, carry one another”.

These days I work helping those who are burning out working with refugees who are serving them through legal support or even the provision of food. Almost without exception it is because they are letting people, and their stories in.

What they are experiencing is called secondary trauma, where an aspect of what you hear from another, becomes your own and you have to process, heal and recover from what you have let in. Keeping people out comes at a price, and so does letting them in.

Perhaps, aside from my created personality type, there was a fear of letting people in for me, perhaps somewhere I had allowed this and it cost me too much, perhaps I didn’t know how deep within us this sits, where ‘letting people’ and their stories in actually resides within us. So my need to self manage had created what became too much distance. It is, after all, a dance of ebb and flow and frequent imbalance.

For a Christian this is problematic since if we are alive, at all on our insides, we are driven by a God given compassion. Compassion is deeply profound and we need to learn to manage it and walk with it with an understanding of where compassion begins and where compassion resides. I have personally had to learn the dance of compassion, the dance of proximity to others, the dance of like, love and loss, which were once kept in a box under lock and key. Today I am learning how to truly live.

So what does it mean to let people in, in a way that is productive, life giving at a mutual level and does not tip the balance towards destructive?

The Hebrew word for Compassion is Rachamim, it is derived from the word Rechem, which is the word for Womb … and there you have it. 

There is nothing shallow about allowing our compassion and love for others to creep into our insides, because in reality this is the place that the feeling began, in the most intimate place of carrying another life through aspects of need and growth. Does it cost, absolutely, but rewards also. Does it cause us pain and need of recovery yes, but life in equal measure.