What Do I Really, Really Want???

Have you ever had your heart set on something, something to buy, an adventure to experience, something you really wanted to do, have, achieve…?  If/when you got there, how was it?  Did it live up to your hopes and expectations?  Did you get what you thought you wanted and did it meet your anticipated desires?

Sometimes the things I have really wanted have lived up to some level of my anticipation.  Other times I have been really excited when I got whatever it was I had yearned and it was great for ‘5 minutes’ and then the magic wore off.  I have sometimes found that the ‘fun’ is in the buying or planning and preparing.  The research and exploring, the seeking price comparisons and comparing brands are sometimes more satisfying than the end product – not always but sometimes.

When we have upgraded our car, it has been exciting and anticipated.  The first drives are great fun and it is exciting to explore the new gadgets that weren’t in the old one.  It feels more comfortable, is more reliable, looks better.  It is a better car and we looked forward to getting it after making the decision. Soon the car settles into the normal practical context of life and becomes the means of us moving from one place to another.  I have no increased enduring happiness for having it.  My life hasn’t taken on a whole new meaning and soon the ordinary ups and downs of life, the normal events predominate.

I often wonder what it is that I/we really want.  I wonder what need or desire really lies behind the hopes and dreams that people have.  I wonder what it is that people who aspire to great power really want and need and whether having untold power will create meaning and joy in their life.  I wonder whether achieving great wealth, as many people seek, will provide ongoing joy, purpose and contentment.  Certainly there are many stories of people coming into great wealth and living it up for some time, doing all they ever (and never) dreamed of but finding no real ongoing satisfaction – more comfort and ease perhaps but not more happiness or joy.

I wonder what it is we really do want and, more so, what we need.  What would make my life richer, fuller, more meaningful and joyful?  What is it that is intrinsically required for me to be fulfilled and whole in my being?   I push this question further and ask what it is that the society around me really wants.  There is so much toing and froing, of seeking this, that or the other in the pursuit of happiness but I don’t always find great joy present in the midst of all the wealth we have.  For a society that is wealthier than ever before, that has access to more knowledge, travel, technology and wealth than any previous generation we also have a great deal of anxiety, depression, mental health issues, loneliness, isolation, fear and so on.  Do people around me seem happier, in general, than 30, 40 or 50 years ago?  I can’t really see much difference except that back then there was possibly more and deeper sense of community and connection.  I suspect we knew more people around us and probably felt a lower level of stress.  Certainly there was less pressure on people and the expectations weren’t as intense – especially young people and education levels.  I wonder whether everyone is happier in their larger houses on smaller blocks with less time spent in the garden and more interaction through screens and technology.

I also wonder what people across the world really want.  What do those who come as refugees really want – and need?  What do terrorists really want and need?  What do those who are antisocial, violent and abusive really want and need?  What do those who exist on either side of the multitude of conflicts, large and small, all around us really want and need?  What do we, as we journey through life, really want and need?  I suspect that what I think I want may not always be what I seek deeper down, that which I need in my deepest being.  Sometimes I think that what I truly yearn for is deeper than what I think I really want.  There is something that is deeper, richer and more fulfilling than the more superficial realities that often dominate my life and desires.  I wonder if it requires a crisis to reset my awareness of what life is about and what is really important for my growth and well-being, my contentment and joy.

Various events of late (people struggling with intense illness, funerals, talking to people about important issues in their lives – hurts, hopes…) remind me that life is often lived in different places.  For some life breaks open and exposes the lies of a superficial world that yearns for more wealth or power, sex or material satisfaction.  They live in the place of deep and profound questions and struggle which become the crucible of transformation, life and emersion into a deeper place of engagement and living.  Others slide across the surface of life in the slipstream of desire or excess or desperate hope for more.  They are continually seeking and searching out the next acquisition, the next experience, the next conquest or achievement or sense of acclaim and celebrity.  Some are simply desperate for what others have and the happiness they perceive must lie behind the walls of the big and expensive houses or board rooms or places of wealth and power.

What do we really desire?  Do we know?  This week I am challenged in these questions by some simple stories Jesus tells in Matthew 13.  One is of a man who sells everything he has to acquire a field with treasure in it.  Another man, a pearl merchant, goes in search of fine pearls.  When he finds one he sells everything he has to purchase it.  These stories are set in the context of describing the Reign or presence of God that is more valuable than anything else, such that in selling all we have to gain it, we don’t need anything else.  These are strange words to the ears of a material world.  They are strange words to a society that places such value and importance on what we possess and what we have in material terms.  Do we forfeit the spiritual for the material?  Is the only food we value that which we put in our mouths?  Do we need, at least in a small part, something deeper and richer than material stuff, alone?  What is this Reign of God of which Jesus speaks, this reality that he places such great importance and value upon?  Why would you and I consider that we need it more than all else when we need our daily bread, the strength to get through today and tomorrow, the roof over our heads, the clothes on our back – there are practical, material issues that confront us?  Is it an either/or situation – either material well-being or spiritual well-being?

For me, Jesus points to a set of values, a way of being that brings all else into stark relief and clear understanding.  I can’t live on bread alone – I need it but I need much more.  I need love, given and received, peace with myself and others, hope, justice, lived and received,  I need a balanced life that isn’t overwhelmed by stress and pressure.  I need to live in a community that is inclusive and accepting, broad and diverse and I need to be delivered from the pervasive fear that overwhelms us.  I am challenged by Jesus’ stories.

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By geoffstevenson

Life Wasn’t Meant to Be Easy! (But it can Still Be Beautiful!)

‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy,’ so famously said former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.  He was met by much derisive cynicism from a populace who felt this well-healed Prime Minister was out of touch with ordinary people.  What would he know about the harshness of life, living as the landed gentry on his property or in the Lodge in Canberra? What would he understand about the difficulties of life when his government were reducing services and so on to more vulnerable people?  So the public rhetoric went.  In spite of all that, Fraser was correct and probably knew much of the difficulties of life – as we all do.  Life simply isn’t meant to be easy.

I am currently aware of a number of people wrestling, struggling and dealing with the hard places of life – recovering from serious illness and surgery, dealing with treatments and therapies for serious illness, living through grief, both new and a little older.  Every night on the evening news we are confronted by stories of life and much reveals the hard edges and struggle, whether through poverty, oppression, war, natural disaster, violence, relationship conflicts…

  1. Scott Peck in his significant book, The Road Less travelled also speaks of the harshness of life. Life is not easy to negotiate. It is not laid out before us on a platter.  We do not breeze through life with ease and skill because none of us have negotiated this road of life and living before.  It is a journey of discovery, unveiling and reveal in kaleidoscope colours in multi-phonic sound.  Brian McLaren in his book, The Great Spiritual Migration, reminds us that life from its early moments creates discomfort and pain – ask any mother-to-be.  Pregnancy offers a multitude of discomforts and sickness.  Child birth adds another dimension and then caring for a new-born is a time-consuming and hard road, as is negotiating a child’s growth, maturing and development.  There are hurdles, hurts, physical and emotional, and the very real elements of life’s difficulty.  Of course within all of this are the beautiful, tender and wonderful moments, moments of awe that are sacred and holy.  Life is a sacred journey that is mysterious and beautiful but can also be harsh and painful.

As our society becomes ever-more individualistic and people isolated, as communities disperse or become less connected we lose the interdependence and mutual care and support that sustains us.  As people become more isolated and painful situations are endured alone, the wisdom, mutuality and love of a true community is lost and more people experience and live longer in the hard places of life.  People of power lose touch with the realities of so many people’s lives and fail to ensure more vulnerable people receive what they need to cope and to live.  As our society becomes more isolated we are also more consumed by fear of the other, the one who is different, whether ethnically, religiously, physically, sexually, socio-economically and in every other divisive category.  We become suspicious or condemning and minorities who appear different are isolated and increasingly excluded and abused by a society trying to ‘cleanse’ itself of anything that strikes fear or uncertainty or threatens the status quo.

When we try to exclude that which is different or seems unsavoury to our palate of life choice, we begin down a road of persecution, violence and disaster.  After all, isn’t that what Hitler, Pol Pot, Apartheid South Africa and other regimes have done?  Isn’t that what lies behind the pain and struggle of our own indigenous Aboriginal people?

The church has also moved down this path far too often – inquisitions, witch trials, burning and excommunicating heretics (or those accused of heresy, whatever that might mean?).  Galileo was a brilliant mathematician who, along with others like Copernicus, proved that the earth isn’t the centre of the universe but orbits the sun.  Even the sun is not the centre of our universe but part of a small galaxy in a very huge universe.  Galileo was condemned by the church of his day as a heretic for he dared to challenge accepted doctrine.  He was considered a danger and silenced.  Placed under a form of house arrest, Galileo was forced to recant his findings and to engage in a process of confession and submission for the rest of his life.  He was, of course, proven correct and is honoured as a brilliant mind and courageous scientist who dared to take on the power of the church.

When we try to weed the garden of society from our perspectives, we tend to throw out the good with the bad and often more of the good than the bad.  When we pontificate who is good and who is evil, who is right and who is wrong, we often fall into the place missing the point and messing everything up.  Life isn’t clean and neat, right and wrong true and evil.  There are elements of all these mingled together in a complex web that makes life rich with possibility and always on the edge of chaos and pain.

In the parable that appears in this week’s gospel (Matthew 13: 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus tells of a farmer who planted a crop of wheat. but one night an enemy came and sowed weeds amongst the crop.  These weren’t just any weeds but tares (darnel), which are very similar to wheat.  They are very hard to distinguish as they grow and it is only as they reach maturity that the two are able to be separated.  The tares have empty head sand are lighter.  They stand up straighter.  Wheat heads are filled with grain and tend to bend over and hang down.  The farmer’s workers wanted to cleanse the crop of the weeds but the farmer suggested that they leave them until maturity and then separate the tares into a pile to be used as fuel for the fire, for cooking (even weeds have their usefulness!) and then harvest the wheat.

Perhaps this wisdom is something we need in contemporary life.  Instead of spending so much energy in society (and church and other organisations) in separating the wheat from the tares and necessarily messing it all up, perhaps we might live and let live.  Stand against evil, of course, but not in violence, hatred and fear-fuelled anger and judgement.  Perhaps many of the differences that we feel and observe between ourselves and others are not things to be rejected but accepted and engaged with.  Perhaps if we tend to the garden in a positive manner and nurture, feed and encourage that which is good and true, then the whole garden may change and be transformed.  Perhaps we spend too much time giving life and voice to the negative and difficult and not enough to that which is wonderful, beautiful and grounded in love.

Life is difficult and a journey that challenges us in many ways.  There are always new adventures that promise much but can also come unstuck and deliver struggle.  In order to negotiate the path before us we need love!  We need the love of one another, of communities that are compassionate, just, merciful and gracious.  We need the deep, profound, healing love that derives from God and feeds our deepest being!

By geoffstevenson

The Lavishly Generous Reckless Grace and God!

A few years ago I was sitting in the church office working away.  I was the only one there when the phone rang and I answered it.  The male voice asked if I was Geoff Stevenson.  I said I was and he asked a bit about my background – did I come from such and such a church… I was surprised and said, ‘Yes, that’s me.  Who is this?’ He gave his name and asked if I remembered him.  I’ll call him Tom.

When he said his name, my mind immediately went back about 10 years to a youth group I helped lead.  We were in the church when a group of street kids – all boys – came and started yelling out.  A couple of us went out to see what was happening and discovered they were yelling to one of their mates who was inside.  He didn’t want to go with them because he liked one of the girls, so they kept yelling out funny and less nice comments.  So we started talking to them.  Over several weeks they kept dropping by and seemed to enjoy, even want to talk with us.  We often invited them in but there was no way they were coming into a church.

After a couple of months we began to spend more and more time with them, talking, walking the streets trying to keep them out of trouble.  As we journeyed with them we heard many stories – some far-fetched, some shocking and some terribly sad.  One of the young fellows, for example, shared that he walked the streets late so that he wouldn’t be home when his stepfather came home drunk because he would be beaten up, even if he was in bed.  Sometimes he would even sleep in the shed with his dog to avoid the stepfather.  I didn’t know what to do with such stories because they were so far from my own experience of a loving family and caring home.  We just listened and continued to reach out as we could.

Eventually the youth group changed and moved to one of the other churches and these teenagers joined in.  It was more than an interesting experience holding together the nice and quiet church kids with the slightly more boisterous church kids and their friends and then add these really wild and worldly wise teenagers.  They created a degree of havoc but at other times joined in and participated.  It was exciting, challenging, difficult, time-consuming and we often wondered what we were doing.  The young blokes kept drinking in the park sometimes.  They told stories of stirring, teasing and annoying local shopkeepers and worse.  What were we doing?  Surely we could put our time, energy and money into better things and more fruitful work!  Surely!!!

Time moved on and kids grew and moved on.  The teenagers eventually moved on into other things and we lost track as some moved away.  There was some contact with a few and Tom was one of them.  I moved on but he contacted me about doing his wedding.  He was living with his fiancé in a pretty difficult area and were quite impoverished.  I talked to them a few times and tried some marriage preparation.  They were all over the place and I struggled with what to do because I know that this marriage was not one that would work.  They were too immature, too wounded, and had no real support.  I wondered how I might proceed but they just as suddenly said they weren’t going ahead with the wedding and we lost contact

So out of the blue, Tom rang me in the church office.  He didn’t sound like Tom.  He was more mature, gentle, laughing and more together.  He told me about himself – he had tracked me don because he wanted me to know what he was doing.  He had become a Christian and was part of a great church.  He was married to a lovely young woman and they were going to have a family.  He had a solid job and they were buying a house.  He had moved across the country and living in another state.  Life had turned around and he was really happy.  He was grateful for what we had done in the youth group and realised he had been difficult.  I was staggered, shocked and really pleasantly surprised.  It was a wonderful phone call and I was really pleased for Tom.

I thought of this story when I read this week’s passage from Matthew 13.  It is often called the Parable of the Sower and is a story of a farmer who sows seed in his field.  Unlike the typical farmer of his day who was incredibly careful with their seed in order not to waste it, this farmer throws seed everywhere.  Seed falls on the hard paths and rocky ground where soil will not easily allow seeds to grow or birds come and eat it.  Other seed falls amongst weeds and thorns where young plants may be choked and some seed falls on good soil where it will germinate and grow well.

It is a story that is generous and extravagant – or recklessly irresponsible and wasteful.  We often consider how we use resources in our society.  Currently on ABC radio, there is an interview with a lawyer who represents Aboriginal people in courts.  He is suggesting that the resources available are insufficient and there needs to be far more for this community.  Others advocate more resources for impoverished communities, people who struggle in life in so many ways.  Some voices are crying out for more welfare support for people who aren’t making it.  Other voices (often led by radio shock jocks!) say that we are wasting money on lazy, good for nothing people who don’t deserve anything.  The Uniting Church, along with other churches advocates for more compassion and support for refugees but, as a nation, we continue to take a hard line.  We really have a problem with what appears reckless generosity.

I wonder where Tom might be today if we or others hadn’t been recklessly generous and stupidly wasteful with our time and energy.  I somehow hate to think and as I do, wonder what became of the others in that youth group.  I have had many experiences of seeing extravagant love and grace have a positive impact on people’s lives.  If I was looking at things from an economic or resource efficiency perspective, I would call much of what I have done into question.  I look back and wonder how much time and effort I may have wasted in situations where there is no guarantee of a positive outcome.  I look at things we have done as a church and wonder why?  Some churches are far more efficient and don’t do anything without counting the cost and ensuring that there be a significant outcome (usually bums on seats and increased financial resources) for any effort.  I suppose that this is a corporate model and usually works well in that realm but is it the way of God?

I have been the recipient of much generous and loving care, guidance and support from many people – starting with my family and extending to friends, strangers, members of the churches and other groups and organisations I’ve been involved in.  Sports coaches, music teachers… God’s generous grace is abundantly given and there for all.  Are we willing to share it in the manner and spirit in which we have received – lavishly!??

By geoffstevenson

Losing Our Religion to Live Jesus’ Way!

There’s a story of a young man who graduated with a PhD in English Literature and went on to teach graduate courses in an American University.  He loved the literature he read and studied – the classics, great novels and poetry through the ages.  He was filled with passion and enthusiasm and poured it out into his classes.  One Monday morning, though, he just quit and walked away for it all.

His mother was rightly worried about him, that he had lost his mind and given up a wonderful career.  In her anxiety she asked a pastor friend would he have a chat with her son and try to talk some sense into him – at very least ensure he was alright.  The pastor rang and they made a time to meet.

When he arrived at the young man’s apartment, it was loaded with books – poetry, novels, texts.  The apartment was modern and comfortable and they sat down with a coffee to chat.  The pastor asked how he was going, wondering how to really broach the subject but the young man had already guessed what this was about.  He said, ‘you’re here to check up on me aren’t you?’

‘Well, your mother is concerned and asked if I’d have a chat with you but I promise I’m not here to badger you into anything – just chat.  Tell me: what happened?’

‘Well I graduated filled with passion and only ever wanted to teach others what I’d discovered, to give them the same joy, wonder and wisdom I’d found in these classics.  I taught every class with as much energy and passion as I could.  I prepared well and gave it everything and for a time it was good.  I loved it.  Then I realised that the students didn’t really appreciate what I was teaching.  They would ask questions like: Is this bit in the exams?  Do we have to red and learn this poem?’

‘A little part of me died with each question and every class I seemed to leave a little more of me behind.  They drained me.  It got so bad that one Monday morning I walked into the Academic Dean’s office and handed him my letter of resignation.  I told him I was leaving.  He tried to talk me out of it but I wasn’t changing my mind.  He threatened me that I would never find another job in a university but I don’t really care.  That’s it.’

The pastor sat back, understanding something of the young man’s story for he had taught classes in college and knew the struggle the young man had experienced.  He said, Í understand what you’re saying but what will you do now?  You will need a job.’

‘I have a job.  I’m a postman and have a daily run around the district.  It’s different and not too bad.’

‘Well I suppose that you are the most over-qualified postman – a PhD postman.  There wouldn’t be too many of them.  Maybe you can be the very best postman around?’

‘Actually I’m lousy.  We all go out about 9:00 and the others all arrive back by 3:00.  I’m lucky to get back by 4:30-5:00.  Most nights I find it hard to get to sleep and I’m often tired through the day.’

The pastor looked confused.  ‘Why are you so late and so tired?’

‘Well, as I walk around I talk to the people I meet as I put mail into their boxes and gradually they have told me their stories, their news and I stop to listen.  I have discovered that the people on my route have all manner of grief, pain, struggle, hopes and joys.  I have been able to give them wisdom from the great writers of our culture.  There is always a poem or story to share and, of course they give me a coffee.  It is really hard to sleep when you’ve drunk 20 cups of coffee each day.  I’ve found that my love of literature is really valued by the people I serve and I can share all the things I’ve loved with them and it seems to make a difference – and I’m happy, content.’

The pastor smiled and encouraged the young man.  They finished the conversation and he left, feeling satisfied that this young man had found his place in life.

I like this story because it goes against most of what we are told about ambition, good jobs, money, status and so on.  It makes me wonder how many people are living their lives through the expectations of others – society, friends, family…  It makes me wonder about the world in which we live that puts so much pressure on people to be something, someone, whatever that might mean.  We often forego satisfaction, meaning and joy for practicality that may never really mean anything.  We give ourselves over to ideologies, expectations and processes that seem to deny us life and slowly crush life out of us while there is a radiant and wonderful world all around us.

In our story from Matthew’s Gospel this week (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30) we hear Jesus speaking out against religion and religious people who are so obsessed with their religion they fail to see the God at its heart.  Whether it is the solemn and passionate John the Baptist who comes with fiery preaching and prophetic words or the Jesus who is life-giving, reaching out to all inviting everyone to the feast of joy and wonder, these religious people reject them all.  They are so intense on what is right, on the legal requirements, the belief system and a rigid set of expectation that they fail to see or hear the words of joy, wonder and love that transcends their religion and brings freedom.  They fail to embrace another way.  They are filled with angst and an intensity that stifles life and joy.  Their religion becomes a grind and God is lost somewhere else where there is a bit of fun, joy, food and where people wrestle with life in all its joy, wonder, struggle and pain.

At the end of the passage Jesus invites his listeners to come and rest if they are tired and weary, to learn a new way that is life-giving and hopeful.  He insists that he has a way that will give life to their beings and relieve them of the deep stress and struggle they experience in trying to toe the line of societal, religious (and corporate, political…) expectations.  It is a different way, a way of love and grace, of forgiveness and mercy, of justice and peace, of community and working together for the well-being of all people.  His way embraces others into a community of hope and love that is inclusive and engaging.  It is a different way – the way of life.

The PhD Postman, for me, had the courage to leave the rat race that was consuming him.  He walked away from the world he had believed in and passionately engaged when he realised it was killing his spirit, his being his self.  He found a place where people yearned for the hope and life his knowledge of literature could fill.  He shared with them and they with him in a kind of community across a neighbourhood and everyone found richer life together.  The story finishes by saying that on his birthday all the neighbourhood gathered in a local hall and threw him a party.  They celebrated their PhD postman whose love and passion had touched their lives and the community was very real.  This is something Jesus would do.  It is a story of life, hope, love and joy!

By geoffstevenson

The Invitation to Be Love

There were two stories this week that made me think.  The first was the stories of Kirsty Boden, the nurse from South Australia killed trying to help people in the London terrorist attacks earlier in the month.  Kirsty ran to help wounded people and was fatally wounded herself.  Kirsty risked her own safety and well-being and ultimately gave her life to help others in through terrible act of evil that was unfolding.  Whilst most of us would run for safety, Kirsty did the opposite and ran to the trouble where people hurt.  I wonder what went through her mind as she ran.  I wonder what she thought as others ran away from the terrorists with screams and shouts.  I wonder what compelled this young nurse to run into danger to help others.  At her funeral people spoke in beautiful ways of this young woman who gave her life for others, whose compassion and courage cost her dearly.  There were wonderful tributes to a woman who loved enough to help.

The other story was about Robbie Cornthwaite, a soccer player with the local Western Sydney Wanderers.  Robbie, his pregnant wife and young daughter were in Malaysia where he was playing professional football.  The team were away at an Asian Champions League match but Robbie was injured and remained at home.  Unexpectedly, his wife went into premature labour at around 22 weeks.  They rushed to the hospital and the drama ensued.  The baby arrived but didn’t live.  Her lungs were not developed and she couldn’t breathe.  It was a nightmare for the couple and Robbie had to rush around in a foreign city and organise the have their baby cremated.  The experience was deeply painful for them and they felt extremely alone in a foreign world without close family and friends.  The deep emotions that the experience engendered swept through Robbie but there wasn’t anywhere to deal with it, no-one to talk to.  The family left Malaysia when he was contracted by the Wanderers for last season (about 12 months ago).  Coming home to Australia was vital for them, to be reunited with friends and family closer by.  Robbie speaks candidly of the difficulty he has endured as the father.  His wife had more practical support and she was the obvious one whom people offered specific care – after all it was she who had physically endured this dream turned nightmare.  Fathers and men do not always know how to speak about these things, especially when they are just that bit removed from the physical realities of carrying a child and enduring child birth.  The pain he has felt has been extraordinary and he still thinks about his daughter all the time.

I can see how his football was deeply affected when he arrived in Australia.  It took him a considerable time to settle down and find his way into the team, to get his head together.  He is now able to talk more freely about his experience and is seeking to help other men in similar situations deal with and talk about their deep feelings of pain and struggle.  It is something that is desperately needed in our modern society where sitting and talking one to one is not always easy or nurtured, a world where screens are the medium many use to communicate and talking about deep and important things in our lives isn’t always nurtured or encouraged.

As I pondered these stories and the two ends of human struggle – Kirsty reaching out selflessly to those who are suffering and Robbie in need of someone to stand with him in his pain – I realised that this is the stuff that makes us more truly human.  We often are distracted by other things that are secondary. We are bombarded with ideas of how to make more money and spend it.  We are implored to be ambitious and compete with others for the top spot.  Our society encourages fear, cynicism, wariness and an unbridled concern for self above much else.  It is only in moments of deep pathos or suffering that we find within us the yearning for something deeper and more life-giving than that which money and power can deliver or violence can achieve.

I read a simple part of Matthew’s story of Jesus (Matthew 10:40-42).  Through the chapter, Jesus sends his followers out to continue his mission which is about responding to human struggle and pain.  They are to go into the world of human reality and be a presence of healing and hope.  They are to go into places where life is hard and grief runs deep to be a healing presence of peace.  They are to be the Love of God in a world that is crying out and hurting.  They are to run against the tide and embrace the little ones who suffer, stand against power that abuses and embody goodness and life over death and evil.

I couldn’t help thinking of Robbie Cornthwaite and his family isolated from people they know and in a place that is relatively unfamiliar and lonely.  His team, the people he knows, are away.  His family and close friends are across the ocean and they are enveloped in crisis and tragedy.  It is into this world that Jesus’ followers were sent to embrace people like Robbie and his family.

I thought of Kirsty who did exactly this, running into the midst of pain and evil to bring healing and peace.  She was, by all reports, a gentle, loving woman of deep compassion and humanity.  On this occasion in a somewhat foreign land she ran into the midst of unfolding evil to help and was killed.  It is a tragic and awful story that has brought deep pain and grief to those who knew and loved her.

In the words of Jesus, he warns that love is not without its dangers and that the world will not always deal kindly with those who embrace the way of love.  We know this because we have some powerful stories of martyrdom, where people of deep love, compassion and justice have been cut down in the prime of life by those threatened, angry and violent.  He warns his followers that the way of life and justice, the way of love and peace will not always be tolerated in this troubled world – Kirsty bears witness to this!

The path into deeper humanity is a path into compassion, justice and sitting with the hopelessness and struggle of our fellow human beings.  All of us at some time will be hurting and will experience crisis.  These moments strip away the layers of superficiality our society heaps upon us.  In such moments money, achievement, power, size of home or value of car or educational, professional or other achievements fall away and we are a vulnerable human.  When we stand naked before the world, powerless to change the circumstances of our life, we realise what is really important and what is not.  It is in those moments that a human face filled with love and compassion and a listening ear, someone who will get into our black hole and sit with us, is the most important thing we can have.  This is what Jesus urges his followers to be and do.  They are to share life in all it fullness and pain with each other and to go into the world around and share life deeply with other people.  They are to incarnate vulnerable love, grace, peace and justice in the midst of human life and receive such grace from others.  This is true humanity!  Kirsty did this and Robbie sought it.  Their stories shine light on Jesus’ way.

By geoffstevenson