Fans or Followers??

There was a man who discovered the art of fire. He discovered how to start fire, control it and use it for heating, cooking…  It was a wonderful discovery and he, such a humble, generous being, wanted to share his discovery with the world.  He wandered around the countryside seeking villages and towns with whom to share his wisdom.

He went to one town and shared his knowledge.  He taught people what to do and how to use it, but they wanted nothing to do with this new-fangled idea and drove him out of town.  He shook the dirt from his feet and moved onto other towns.  Some drove him out, but some were more receptive and welcomed him, albeit with some suspicion and uncertainty.

In one town, the man created fire in their midst and showed them how to cook.  In the cold of winter, he showed them how they could keep warm.  People gradually responded to the man and his discovery and began to follow him, listening to all his teaching on fire.

The leaders of the town became concerned because more and more people began to listen to and revere him.  Their concern grew until they reached the point when they could no longer tolerate him and planned his demise.  They saw to it that he had an ‘accident’ and disappeared.

The people grieved his loss, so the leaders set up a shrine to his memory.  They set up all the implements of fire making and framed texts of his speeches and teaching. They had paintings of the man hung around the shrine and developed rituals of remembrance for the people.  They no longer used the fire he brought to the town, but they worshipped his memory

This is a common story, whether in religious traditions or wider society.  We are moved or inspired by a person, their life, teaching, wisdom or loving acts…   When they leave us or die, we venerate their memory.  Some funerals are renowned for their glowing praise and adulation of the person.  They venerate the person and praise their memory.  People extol their virtues and honour the memory and the reality of the person’s life.  There are metaphorical fireworks and a rapturous experience and then everyone leaves, holding to the memory but not the life to which the memory and teaching, actions etc point.  This is certainly the case in the memorial services of great leaders or the holidays and holy days that remember such people.  We become caught up in the celebrations and memory but not the reality of the life and practice it represents.  Our lives don’t change, or as commentator Brian McLaren suggests, ‘we become fans not followers!’

I confess I struggled with our readings this week until I heard a few words of Brian McLaren and he challenged me to think about how I celebrate ideas and values, sometimes more than embracing them into my life.  I am inspired and challenged by the stories of people like Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Archbishop Oscar Romero.  I could add many others like Mandella, Mother Teresa…  These people’s lives and writings have challenged and confronted me.  I revel in them but too often celebrate them like a fan on the sidelines, cheering the team on, rather than being fully engaged in the ‘game’ that is taking place on the field of life.  It is often easier to cheer from sidelines than get involved in the cut and thrust of life lived in the raw places with courage, love and faith.

Two of the stories this week (2 Kings:1-2, 6-14 and Luke 9:51-62) speak of impending endings, departures.  Elijah, the ancient Jewish prophet is leaving.  The story tells of him being taken into the heavens.  It is easy to be caught up in the questions of how, what, why of this story and lose sight of the younger ‘apprentice’ that Elijah has been nurturing.  Elisha is caught up in the moment and it would be easy to focus on the greatness of his mentor and celebrate his holiness and venerate him – become a fan.  Elisha, however, chooses to be a follower.  ‘What do you want?’ asks Elijah.  Elisha responds, ‘I want a double share of your wisdom.’  Elisha wants to live the life rather than celebrate the memory.  He wants to continue the journey they have begun and take up where his mentor has left off, and it is granted.

In the Gospel story, Jesus is facing his impending death.  He turns to face Jerusalem, where he will engage the powers of the world, powers that control, dominate and abuse.  He journeys towards that place with expectations upon his shoulders, Messianic expectations that he will lead a revolt against the Romans and deliver the Jewish people into a new place of peace under God.  They expect a religious-military leader.  As he journeys, the disciples call for fire to come from heaven and consume some enemies who reject them.  Jesus stops and rebukes them for their lack of understanding and abuse of power.  They want the fireworks and the glory but not the real life of Jesus.  Others want to follow under their own conditions, enjoy the unfolding drama from a comfortable place and not engage in the challenging moment.  Jesus calls people into the journey, not the memory.

So much religious conversation within and beyond the church deals with ideas, values and argues over truths to be believed or not.  Why, for example, does Israel Folau, have to speak his beliefs into being on social media?  If he truly believes what he says – and if he does understand God as loving – why does he not actively reach out in love to help and embrace those he believes have messed up lives and are lost?  It is easy to throw pots shots at people we disagree with but much harder to follow Jesus in the way of love, grace and embracing all people into an inclusive, transformative community!  Jesus’ way is about claiming a peaceful, faithful and loving response to the world.  He challenged the expectations upon him and lived in a different, prophetic way that proclaimed love, grace, inclusion, relationship and through this, healing.  He sought to understand people and walk with them, offering a different way forward than the life-denying ways that oppressed or held them.

We need to live into these ideas of peaceful, relational, loving justice if we are to confront the major challenges of our world today.  Political and economic systems that are destroying the planet, creating weapons of death and denying many people freedom and life.  The assault on indigenous peoples throughout the world, the denial of place and home to these and other people, displaced through warfare and oppressive regimes.  It is not enough to cheer Jesus on from the sidelines or raising our voices in praise.  He calls us into a life of following him, of living the life of Christ in the world with all of its pain, struggle, joy and beauty.  We are invited into the place of hope and peace to share peace and hope with others.  It will take us into dark and difficult places.  It will take courage, commitment and love!

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By geoffstevenson

When a Name Defines, Controls and Denies Life!

What’s in a name?  I think back to the ways we refer to various people at various times.  I can think of some of the more confronting and abusive names I have used for people in moments of hurt or anger or deep frustration.  I have called out at faces on the TV screen as I have heard them speak trash and their words have angered me.  I know that I have been called many things, some derogatory aimed at getting beneath my skin and causing me hurt and to help me understand how lowly I am thought of by the person or group.  Other names have been a blessing and lifted me up as someone has valued who I am and named it in me.

Names have power and often power is expressed over a person through naming them.  We use names to define people and place them in a ‘box’ where we can deal with them.  The abusive processes of consecutive federal governments have used blanket terms for asylum seekers, such as ‘illegals’, ‘boat people’ and so on.  The whole rhetoric around asylum seekers treats them as criminals who need to be detained in detention centres lest they inflict their brand of terrorism or anti-social behaviour upon our ‘free and lovely society’.  Of course, the policies are wrong.  They are unjust and contravene international human rights agreements but language, names, are used to define these people and imply they are evil (or potentially evil!).

Whilst these people remain anonymous and described by labels, it is easier for us to deny who they are and ignore them.  Then, occasionally, a person is revealed, and we have a face, a true name and identity and it becomes harder to deny the reality.  Tharunicaa is a 2-year old Sri Lankan child.  She and her family were removed from their home in Biloela in Queensland, in an early morning police raid, when they were 1 day over their visa.  Tharunicaa has spent her first 2 birthdays in a Melbourne detention centre.  Her sister is 4.  She has a name as well – it is Kopika. Tharunicaa has serious dental issues arising from lack of sunshine in the first year of detention and has been denied proper treatment.  The injustices and lack of compassion confound and yet, in all the government reports they are referred to in anonymous ways, generally ‘detainees’, that imply criminality or danger.

When we begin to provide a true name for people and therefore situations, we might begin to break through falsehood, injustice and abusive practices that limit people and keep them bound in the chains of discrimination, racism, sexism, and all the other forms of prejudice that control people.  Using the true name of a person can liberate them from the bonds that form around them, in reality or in their self-image, and bring freedom that allows them to be drawn back into relationships and ordinary life.

This week I have been contemplating a wonderfully complex and enigmatic story from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39).  It tells of a man who is deeply lost and wounded.  He cries out in the day and night.  He beats himself with rocks and stones.  The townspeople fear him and lock him away with chains to keep him away from others and perhaps safe from himself.  He is the weird, strange, crazy man who lives amongst the tombs, the place of the dead.  Immediately my mind goes to the strange, crazy people I have encountered, especially the ones who engender fear and caution.  There are the people who stumble down the city footpath shouting abusive comments or those who look angry and are dressed in strange clothes…  I think of people addicted to drugs or alcohol or plagued with mental illness out of control who feel threatening, people I don’t understand because they are different – and nameless.  They are anonymous and I want to keep to my own safe, contained way.

This man is completely lost.  Like the Indigenous people one of the cultural guides in an Aboriginal Cultural Centre out from Darwin described.  He spoke of the sad people who dwelt in the city, lost from home and culture and drowning their pain and alienation with alcohol.  There are so many lost people all around us.  They are anonymous and helpless – yes, some appear and act in dangerous and anti-social ways!  The place where the man was, Gerasa, was in every way across the sea – it was in every way ‘over there’.  Galilee was the place of life and hope and truth.  Gerasa was across the Sea of Galilee in pagan territory.  He lived in the cemetery and his life was filled with everything that would defile and corrupt a good Jewish person.  This is the place Jesus journeyed into!   He asked the man for his name and the ‘daemons’ within him answered with the derogatory labels that were applied to him – ‘demon-possessed’… In the story he wasn’t even called a person, simply a generic term for ‘male’.  He was ‘non-person’ and didn’t rate any compassion, care, or real understanding – like so many anonymous people locked away in the chains and bonds of cultural rejection and prejudice – detention centres, for example.

Jesus would not accept an anonymous, impersonal, ‘untrue’ name and he acts to engage the person within, the hidden, lost soul within the body and mind that are out of control.  Jesus engages the ‘male’ and crashes through the labels (that may be diagnoses, categorisations, definitions, abusive names…) to discover the true human being at the heart of the man.  In contrast to the ‘city’ that this man lives in (a ‘city’ that needs a victim, a scapegoat to set themselves over and against), Jesus embraces this man into the Reign of Love that is the heart of God.  This Reign is gracious, inclusive, accepting and refuses to define, scapegoat or categorise and isolate.  This Reign recognises the person, the human within and seeks to give expression to this unique human being.

David Lose says:I find it devastating that he has no name, no identity left, except for what he is captive to…  He has been completely defined by what assails him, by what robs him of joy and health, by what hinders him and keeps him bound…”  It is this same sense of captivity that assails so many people within our world.  It comes through health crises or disabilities (psychological and physical), addictions, abuse, and the myriad forms of discrimination grounded in power abuse, fear, need to control, being different…

Finally, in our story, the man is called a human being, a man and he lives into this recognition and grace.  He becomes that which he is named.  Jesus’ expectation is that this human being of unique ability and expression will become who he is created and called to be – he is effectively ‘called into being’ through the love and acceptance of Jesus who reached out into the unknown dangerous and chaotic places and brought liberation and life.  We are invited to embrace this same way and be people who call forth love, hope and life in each other and those captive and lost.

By geoffstevenson

The Relational, Interconnectedness of All Things in God!

When Galileo (and Copernicus) recognised that the Earth was not the centre of the universe but orbited the Sun, he was considered heretical.  Galileo was placed under house arrest, forced to recant and recite a daily confession, such was the level of angst, fear and opposition he faced from a religious world in Europe.  In foolishness, the Church unjustly railed against this great man of science.

Newton learned from Galileo’s ‘mistake’ and at the end his great work, Principia, he wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Barbara Brown Taylor says of this: “He gave God credit for the laws, in other words, but the laws themselves left very little for a deity to do. God may have designed the machine and thumped it into motion, but once the thing got moving it seemed to do just fine all by itself. As far as the universe was concerned, God’s job was most like that of a night watchman: someone who dozed in a lawn chair while the stars spun in their courses overhead.”  This notion of the world as a system in which a part could be removed, fixed or replaced and the whole thing could function again, impacted every part of life.  In school or society, when a child or person caused trouble, they were taken out, punished or dealt with (‘fixed’) and then put back expecting everything to function properly once again – but often didn’t.  People are unpredictable and respond emotionally and often irrationally or do things because of influences within or beyond them.  Life is unpredictable.  The world is not a machine and people don’t act like parts in a machine.  God is not a cosmic clockmaker who drops in and out like nothing more than a simple repairman.

Quantum physics changed everything again.  Suddenly the scientific world recognised the relational centre of everything.  Einstein however did not like Quantum Physics because it went against his own laws of relativity and the speed of light being the ultimate speed of all things.  There’s  lovely research the he and 2 colleagues, Podolsky and Rosen performed (called the EPR Experiment).  If a sub-atomic particle decays into 2 particles, they are called twins and are intricately connected.  If one particle spins one way, the other spins the opposite.  So, if we took one particle across the universe and left the other in the laboratory before us, somehow caught it and reversed its spin, the other particle would instantaneously reverse its spin.  There is an instantaneous communication between the two particles that transcends the speed of light.  Einstein hated this theoretical stage and refused to believe it as it went against his very own theory.  Various experiments proved that some mysterious form of communication between the two particles existed and Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance.’

This and many other discoveries reveal the deep interconnectedness of all things.  Everything is connected and in relationship.  Biologists speak of the ‘web of life’ and we know of the interconnected systems of nature, cycles of water, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide…  Modern science speaks of the relational nature of all things. The atoms in our bodies come from the dust of stars and have been part of rocks and trees and animals… over immeasurable time.  The water I drink has been through oceans, rivers, animals, trees, through me, you and the world.  When I do something, it has an effect on other people, on the earth and its creatures, and the larger the act, the wider the ripples of impact.  This world is deeply and profoundly interconnected and relational.

Traditional religion has envisaged a God such as one in Newton’s Principia, a cosmic clockmaker who is relatively uninvolved but never-the-less sits in some kind of judgement over us and does some stuff to ‘fix us’.  I’m not sure how we got to this notion of God because it is not the picture of God who created all things through love and saw that it was good.  The picture of the relational God appears in the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) where God speaks the world into being as an act of creative love.  On the sixth day God says, ‘Let us make humans in our image, in our image let us make them.’  This is a relational God who exists in community and looks upon the creation as being very good, enjoying the wonders of the world that emerge from the heart of Divine love.  In the Jewish stories God is always described in a relational manner – ‘the God of your fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…’  When Moses stood before a burning bush, he wanted a name for God – ‘who are you?’  God replied, ‘I am who I am’.  In other words, you will only know me as you experience me and trust me.

Jesus speaks relationally saying, ‘I am in the Father and the father is in me and I in the Spirit…’  He also invites us to be in him and he in us and we will be in God…  It is circular and grounded in the interconnected reality of all things – in God.

Paul was converted from a belief system that categorised everyone, defined who was in and out, right and wrong…  He experienced the relational God in Christ who transformed him and opened his heart and mind to embrace all people and all things.  He speaks of all things being equal in Christ, where difference and diversity is recognised, received and celebrated but all are one.  In Ephesians 4, we are told that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God, who is over all and in all and through all.

God is the essential unity that holds all things together in interconnected, relational love.  God is the energy, the life, the wonder and mystery at the heart of all things, the source and the life of everything.  All was created in God and has its life and being in God, whether we recognise and understand this or not.  This is the heart of true faith and life, that God who dwells amongst us, is with us and through us and loves us because God is love.

This week is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God who is a diversity in unity, a community, a relationship held in love.  The expression of this love is the act of creation and the embracing of the physical world through the incarnation of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth, in whom we see the very essence of God’s love and grace enacted in human life.  The Spirit of God pervades all things as the creative Spirit that animates life and continues the act of creation through the evolving life of the world.  Psalm 8 will be read and sung this week as an act of praise that rings through the centuries joining people of faith and expressing the awe and wonder we all know in the very beauty of everything.  It is a song of praise for the beauty, wonder and diversity of all things and all are held in profound love and grace in God!

By geoffstevenson

The Power Behind the Dreams and Visions for a New World!

A couple of weeks ago I recalled the wonderful speech of Martin Luther King Jr, the one we know as, ‘I Have A Dream.’  We reflected on the vision that captivated King through his life.  It began with a powerful experience of insult and rejection.  A young 14-year-old Martin, already a prodigious speaker, travelled across Georgia on a bus to compete in a public speaking contest.  On the way home to Atlanta, the white driver called Martin a ‘black son-of-a-bitch’, and ordered he and his teacher, Sarah Bradley to give up their seats when whites got on the bus.  Ms Bradley eventually persuaded Martin to comply.  The night stayed with Martin, who later recalled that he had never felt so angry in his whole life.  The irony is that young Martin had just won the speaking competition with a speech entitled, ‘The Negro and the Constitution,’ which he delivered from memory.

It was Jesus of Nazareth and his words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), that inspired Martin and drew him onwards into life as a human being, a man with coloured skin in a white world and unjustly oppressed.  He recalls that his ‘conversion’ into Christian faith was a natural and gradual process in his life as the son, grandson and great grandson of Southern Baptist Ministers.  Their influence and the love he experienced in home and church, reflected the love of God and something within him stirred and he was convicted of a call into ordained ministry.

Martin Luther King Jr’s call into ministry was connected to his experiences of the social context of southern USA in the first half of the 20th century.  Injustice, racism, oppression and abuse all had their influences upon him, and the movement of God’s Spirit within him and through his life, gently but firmly guided his path as he gave himself into this way.  It was similar for Mother Teresa, as she travelled for her annual retreat, she ‘heard a call, within her call’ to go and serve the poor in the streets of Calcutta.  It was this moment that the 36-year-old nun became Mother Teresa.  The call was to serve and love God by serving and loving the poorest people of the city.  She and her sisters nursed the poor and served the most needy, providing some comfort and love in moments of deep aloneness, struggle and fear.

It is this deep sense of being called or led, convicted to respond to an inner yearning that comes like a voice, that characterises the lives of Martin Luther King Jr and Mother Teresa.  It is this same sense of call, of being drawn outward into something new that also typifies the responses of many people.  Sometimes this comes from within a religious framework and sometimes it doesn’t.  Kon Karapanagiotidis was a young Greek Australian boy who experienced racism and bullying.  He was different and felt different, a loner and somewhat lost at times, he retreated to studies and reading.  It was a book by Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Strength to Love,’ that gave Kon hope and belief in himself and a passion to make a difference.  He had a calling that drove him forward to work for justice, equality and to overcome racism and abuse.  He has a law degree and other degrees and he works insane hours, serving the most powerless and hopeless people with passionate enthusiasm.  It is a calling and though no religious element, one can see and hear the love of God in his life and words.  Kon reflects the justice and hope that derives from the heart of God, as he leads the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

These are stories of ordinary people who have felt an inner urge and passion well-up and overtake them in dramatic ways.  They are overwhelmed by love for their fellow humans and see the equality and sacredness in each person.  They care about the rights of all people to live with freedom, hope and peace and strive towards this dream.  Love demands a just expression in the midst of life.

This week is called ‘Pentecost’ in the life of the church.  It is a festival that celebrates the transformation of ordinary people into a dynamic force and power for love, justice, peace, and the formation of a community grounded in this love and justice.  In the book of Acts (2:1-20) there is the story that speaks of God’s Spirit blowing through the lives of lost and ineffective followers of Jesus, confused by his death but having had a profound experience of what they called resurrection – new and transformed life that transcended death and the powers of the world.  God’s Spirit blew into their lives and being and gripped them with enthusiastic, passionate, and uncontrolled vision and purpose.  They formed into a new community that shared things in common, stood for inclusive love and welcomed all people into a renewed way of love, peace and justice.

The story speaks of young and old having new dreams and seeing visions of life and hope for the world.  These visions are about how we can find life in its richness and fullness – together.  The men and women in this story become the people they can be rather than being diminished by fear and uncertainty.  These ordinary men and women begin to do extraordinary things because they are suddenly open to and embracing of this mysterious force that comes upon them and works in and through them.  This mysterious force we call the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, that is creative and nurturing.  This is the Spirit that hovered over the chaos in the beginning and brought order; the Spirit that was breathed into the people formed from dust and animated them into life.  This is the Spirit of God that permeates our world and being with creative power and love.  This is the power that moves people to deeper love and compassion, acts of mercy and justice, reconciliation and peacemaking.  This is the power of God that is not coercive but invitational, nurturing, comforting and grounded in the deepest, purest love.  This is the love of God that holds all things in deep relationship and animates all life.

When we are open through whatever means to this powerful force of love, we are lifted to new possibilities in love, grace, peace, justice, inclusion and reaching out to each other as a community of hope in the world.  Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Kon Karapanagiotidis, and others, embraced the potential of love that was in them and grew in their capacity to be loving and loved human beings!

This love flows in and through and around all of us and is the very essence of our life and being, that which gives life to and sustains all things.  It overwhelms us with new dreams and visions, new energy and life and lifts us into new possibilities that are grounded in faith, hope and love, and the God who is at the heart of everything.  More than anything we need people who are gripped by this vision, this hope, this love, by a God bigger than our differences and problems and who promises life for all people.  This is our hope and our life.

By geoffstevenson

The Power Behind the Dreams and Visions for a New World!

A couple of weeks ago I recalled the wonderful speech of Martin Luther King Jr, the one we know as, ‘I Have A Dream.’  We reflected on the vision that captivated King through his life.  It began with a powerful experience of insult and rejection.  A young 14-year-old Martin, already a prodigious speaker, travelled across Georgia on a bus to compete in a public speaking contest.  On the way home to Atlanta, the white driver called Martin a ‘black son-of-a-bitch’, and ordered he and his teacher, Sarah Bradley to give up their seats when whites got on the bus.  Ms Bradley eventually persuaded Martin to comply.  The night stayed with Martin, who later recalled that he had never felt so angry in his whole life.  The irony is that young Martin had just won the speaking competition with a speech entitled, ‘The Negro and the Constitution,’ which he delivered from memory.

It was Jesus of Nazareth and his words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), that inspired Martin and drew him onwards into life as a human being, a man with coloured skin in a white world and unjustly oppressed.  He recalls that his ‘conversion’ into Christian faith was a natural and gradual process in his life as the son, grandson and great grandson of Southern Baptist Ministers.  Their influence and the love he experienced in home and church, reflected the love of God and something within him stirred and he was convicted of a call into ordained ministry.

Martin Luther King Jr’s call into ministry was connected to his experiences of the social context of southern USA in the first half of the 20th century.  Injustice, racism, oppression and abuse all had their influences upon him, and the movement of God’s Spirit within him and through his life, gently but firmly guided his path as he gave himself into this way.  It was similar for Mother Teresa, as she travelled for her annual retreat, she ‘heard a call, within her call’ to go and serve the poor in the streets of Calcutta.  It was this moment that the 36-year-old nun became Mother Teresa.  The call was to serve and love God by serving and loving the poorest people of the city.  She and her sisters nursed the poor and served the most needy, providing some comfort and love in moments of deep aloneness, struggle and fear.

It is this deep sense of being called or led, convicted to respond to an inner yearning that comes like a voice, that characterises the lives of Martin Luther King Jr and Mother Teresa.  It is this same sense of call, of being drawn outward into something new that also typifies the responses of many people.  Sometimes this comes from within a religious framework and sometimes it doesn’t.  Kon Karapanagiotidis was a young Greek Australian boy who experienced racism and bullying.  He was different and felt different, a loner and somewhat lost at times, he retreated to studies and reading.  It was a book by Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Strength to Love,’ that gave Kon hope and belief in himself and a passion to make a difference.  He had a calling that drove him forward to work for justice, equality and to overcome racism and abuse.  He has a law degree and other degrees and he works insane hours, serving the most powerless and hopeless people with passionate enthusiasm.  It is a calling and though no religious element, one can see and hear the love of God in his life and words.  Kon reflects the justice and hope that derives from the heart of God, as he leads the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

These are stories of ordinary people who have felt an inner urge and passion well-up and overtake them in dramatic ways.  They are overwhelmed by love for their fellow humans and see the equality and sacredness in each person.  They care about the rights of all people to live with freedom, hope and peace and strive towards this dream.  Love demands a just expression in the midst of life.

This week is called ‘Pentecost’ in the life of the church.  It is a festival that celebrates the transformation of ordinary people into a dynamic force and power for love, justice, peace, and the formation of a community grounded in this love and justice.  In the book of Acts (2:1-20) there is the story that speaks of God’s Spirit blowing through the lives of lost and ineffective followers of Jesus, confused by his death but having had a profound experience of what they called resurrection – new and transformed life that transcended death and the powers of the world.  God’s Spirit blew into their lives and being and gripped them with enthusiastic, passionate, and uncontrolled vision and purpose.  They formed into a new community that shared things in common, stood for inclusive love and welcomed all people into a renewed way of love, peace and justice.

The story speaks of young and old having new dreams and seeing visions of life and hope for the world.  These visions are about how we can find life in its richness and fullness – together.  The men and women in this story become the people they can be rather than being diminished by fear and uncertainty.  These ordinary men and women begin to do extraordinary things because they are suddenly open to and embracing of this mysterious force that comes upon them and works in and through them.  This mysterious force we call the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, that is creative and nurturing.  This is the Spirit that hovered over the chaos in the beginning and brought order; the Spirit that was breathed into the people formed from dust and animated them into life.  This is the Spirit of God that permeates our world and being with creative power and love.  This is the power that moves people to deeper love and compassion, acts of mercy and justice, reconciliation and peacemaking.  This is the power of God that is not coercive but invitational, nurturing, comforting and grounded in the deepest, purest love.  This is the love of God that holds all things in deep relationship and animates all life.

When we are open through whatever means to this powerful force of love, we are lifted to new possibilities in love, grace, peace, justice, inclusion and reaching out to each other as a community of hope in the world.  Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Kon Karapanagiotidis, and others, embraced the potential of love that was in them and grew in their capacity to be loving and loved human beings!

This love flows in and through and around all of us and is the very essence of our life and being, that which gives life to and sustains all things.  It overwhelms us with new dreams and visions, new energy and life and lifts us into new possibilities that are grounded in faith, hope and love, and the God who is at the heart of everything.  More than anything we need people who are gripped by this vision, this hope, this love, by a God bigger than our differences and problems and who promises life for all people.  This is our hope and our life.

By geoffstevenson

United We Stand, Divided…

The recent election campaign revealed strong divisions across the electorate and amongst the protagonists for elected positions in parliament.  It revealed diversity in thought, hope, need, fear and desire.  We are different and have different lives, perspectives and insights into, and experiences of, life.  It became so competitive and important to ‘win’ that most anything went.  Sometimes I lost sight of the fact this was about our nation’s leadership and directions as it felt more like a challenge between 2 men, with a range of smaller competitors intent on getting in the way, claiming their 15 seconds of fame and getting a piece of the action for themselves.  I heard a lot of rhetoric about people, the good, bad and ugly and the focus was on difference between them.

Difference is something we too often focus on.  We look upon those whose appearance, politics, gender, orientation, culture, language, beliefs, physical, emotional or intellectual capacity, are different as being ‘other’.  Do we feel afraid of those who are different?  Do we feel suspicious or jealous or confused by difference?  We spend significant time, energy and money on separating people off from each other, keeping ourselves ‘safe’ from those who are different.  There has been a sad history of isolating and ‘demonising’ those who are different.  The early colonisers, for example, were unable to accept that the indigenous people of Australia were equally human and were connected to the land.  This was to the peril of early settlers who struggled to survive in a hostile, foreign land.

More recently immigrants of every continent have felt excluded and have struggled to co-exist because they were different.  They looked different, sounded different and were judged accordingly.  For many, multi-culturalism is confronting and challenging but for others an amazing mix of colour, culture, food and music that brings vitality and life in technicolour wonder.  It is in our diversity that we discover our own uniqueness and a breadth of life and wisdom beyond what we and our narrow experience can realise.  It is in our diversity that we discover other possibilities and opportunities.  In our received and accepted diversity our world expands and grows, and the richness of the whole humanity enriches everyone.

Too often we diminish ourselves through diminishing others.  When we lock refugees in detention centres beyond a reasonable timeframe to process them, we diminish our own nation as we abuse these vulnerable people.  It is through fear, the need for control and our belief that some people are disposable or unworthy of full life that we lock them away and deny them justice and life.  In our neighbourhoods many hide behind locked and gated communities that restrict who can come and go.  There are various ways in which we build barriers to exclude those we do not want to allow in.

Diversity is often experienced as a negative and fearful thing.  Some cultures and regimes seek to make everyone and everything the same, to reduce diversity.  Such regimes diminish freedom and the unique contributions that each person brings.  They are monochrome cultures.  The experience of cultures and people different to me opens my eyes and brings new insights, tastes and sound.  I find myself drawn out of myself and my focus shifts beyond myself to other people and the wider world in which we live.  I realise we share the same air and water.  We all have hurts and hopes, fears and dreams.  We all live on this wondrous earth and call it home and we are all created in the image of God.

This week I am challenged once again by a man’s last prayer (John 17:20-26).  Jesus is moving closer to death and takes time to pray, to express his deepest yearning and hopes.  John expresses the essence of who Jesus was and what he was on about in this prayer.  There is a beautiful expression of deep unity in the way Jesus speaks to God: I am in you and you are in me.  We are one in this together, different but one.  May all people be one, unified in love across their diversity!

Jesus expresses his deep yearning for oneness in humanity.  As he and God are one, united in love through their diversity, may his followers and all people find unity in love.  Jesus has such a deep connection in God, a deep sense of his own being and life as one expressed in and through God, that he yearns for all people to know this rich fullness and life.  As he experiences the divisions in people, his own people of the Jewish faith and nation, along with the wider world of other nations under Rome, he yearns for true peace and life lived in unity.  This isn’t about everyone being the same, believing the same things or experiencing life in the same way.  It is about recognising the beauty and wonder we express in our diversity and allowing this to be expressed freely and fully – in love and respect that builds up the human race and enriches the whole world.  Jesus prays that we might find our life in him and his deep life in God because that is the most wondrous and richest destination for our journey through life.

This prayer is staggering in its openness to others.  Jesus seems unconcerned about himself but expresses his deep concern for all people to know and experience what he does.  It is a prayer about everyone else, even those who will reject him and kill him.  May they come to know life in God’s fullness!  This is profound and countercultural as we are too often nurtured in revenge, retaliation and violence.  Jesus resists violence and urges love, grace and inclusion.  He celebrates those who are different and welcomes them into the Reign of God.  Children, almost disposable objects in 1st century culture, find value, and held up as examples.  Women were objects of ownership, also find value and are held up as prime examples of what it means to follow him.  Even sworn enemies, such as Samaritans are welcomed into God’s Realm as equals, human beings seeking to live their life on this fragile earth alongside all other people.  Jesus’ parables speak of the radical inclusiveness of God, who welcomes everyone into this Reign of love and grace.  God is unwilling to build walls or create unneeded barriers and boundaries – all are welcome, and all are children of God!  Many choose to live beyond this reality and deny their own being and this grace.  In various ways we all of us choose exclusiveness and have self-centred aspirations that lead us away from this Divine love at the heart of all things.

If I have a prayer right now, it is that in the midst of a nation that seeks to divide and differentiate people, and focus upon personal gain at the expense of the vulnerable and the earth, we will recognise our common humanity under one God who loves all people and the very earth that is suffering under hum

By geoffstevenson