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.

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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

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 wrailed 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 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 a lovely experiment 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…  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

What Vision Drives Us?

In the sweltering heat of a Washington DC summer in 1963, a quarter of a million people gathered in the capitol extending back from the Lincoln Memorial, having marched in support of Civil Rights.  Several speakers regaled the masses.  As the final speaker prepared to move to the podium, the television networks switched to live coverage and Mahalia Jackson sang, ‘I’ve been ‘buked and I’ve been scorned…’ Anticipation built as Rev Dr Martin Luther King stood before the large crowd, having prepared scrupulously for this, his most important speech to date. He and his trusted aides spent the night working and reworking the text, as they sought to wend a course between the difficult obstacles of policy and reactive voices to unite people solidly behind a just cause.

His words were thoroughly prepared, and he began, recalling Lincoln’s great Gettysburg Address, declaring the slaves of the south, free.  His words moved between poetry and stiff legalese.  The prepared speech was good but not great.  He came to a point and realised his next words were lame; he began to improvise and those around his realised this.  As he negotiated his way, Mahalia called out, ‘Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.’  It was a dream he had shared as he toured churches across the US, a dream, a vision of a brighter future where all lived in harmony.  He faced the cameras and spoke of his dream, his vision, the vision that had wrapped itself around his being, filled him with passionate hope and drove him onwards, a vision where his children and all children would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the quality of their character, and be able to share food at the same table.

I heard of another dream or vision the other day when Richard Fydler (ABC Radio’s ‘Conversation Hour’) replayed an interview with Bob Hawke, recorded a few years ago.  In it Hawke honestly accepts his frailties and erroneous ways at various points in his life – his vulnerabilities.  They discuss the highs and lows of his public and private life – his tears and emotion as he recounted the Tiananmen Square massacre and his own daughter’s heroin addiction and his burning desire to help struggling people, the little ones for whom life was unfair and difficult.  When asked what drove him to seek justice and equality for people, he spoke of his Minister father, Clem.  Clem told him, ‘Bob, if we believe in the Fatherhood of God, we must also believe in the brotherhood of man.’ Those words, reflective of the era expressed the fundamental vision of Christian faith that all are created in God’s image and equal, deserve justice and freedom and are loved by God!  It was this vision of equality in God that the agnostic Bob Hawke took to heart, a vision of just and equal rights for all people.  This drove him in public life and gave him passion, energy and was his conviction.

We all need a dream, a vision for life, something to give us direction, purpose and energy.  We need a vision to drive us forward as we strive to become who we can be and make a difference.  A vision captivates us and gives meaning to what we do.  Proverbs 29 reminds us that without a vision, the people perish.  Martin Luther King gave us a dream that day, a vision that captivated him and many others, a vision of justice and life for all.  Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandella and many others have given us vision, dreams and purpose that revolve around loving each other, seeking peace, equality and justice.  When we hear these great voices, we listen.  They lift our minds, our being, our hopes and expectations.  We are captivated by a vision of what can be.  It motivates us to create a beautiful world with hope and life.

All visions begin with the person being captured, held in a passionate moment of clarity and giving themselves into the energy and life of the vision – of letting go of control and entering the flow of visionary life and movement.  The New Testament story of Saul’s conversion speaks of a vision, a blinding light and a voice, that brings him to his knees, vulnerable and helpless, blinded and dependent.  Saul is transformed, his legalistic belief system blown open and he becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentile world of the 1st century.  Paul is held by this vision and it becomes his calling.  It drives his life and changes everything.  He lets go of everything he was and the absolute control he demanded over people and beliefs of ‘right and wrong’.  He rides the waves of vision and dream, a passionate living in the way of God and the life of the Spirit.  He gives everything to share the love and freedom he has experienced in Christ, with the world.

In this week’s reading (Acts 16:9-16) Paul is travelling across Asia (modern day Turkey) and his way ‘feels directed’ in a straight line.  Every time he looks to turn left or right, he is redirected back on the forward journey, teaching, preaching, sharing hope with those he meets.  Finally, he hits the coast of the Aegean Sea in the city of Troas (slightly south of modern-day Gallipoli).  Before him is water.  He prepares to journey south, north or back inland but is caught by a dream in the night that changes everything – again!  In the dream a man cries out for him to come to Macedonia and help them out!  Macedonia is ‘out there,’ across the water – 2 days by boat.  Paul, a man of dreams and visions, captivated by the Spirit’s call and the mission of God, listens to this latest dream, and enlists a boat to take them across the waters.  He arrives on the second day and travels inland to Neapolis and onto Philippi, the capital.  On the Sabbath day, he went to where he understood Jewish people would gather to worship and looked for ‘the man’.  There were no men, only a group of women, and Paul spoke to them of his vision, his life, his hope, his faith and the love that seized him in Christ.  One of the women, Lydia was moved and responded, seeking to be baptised by Paul.  She and her household were baptised, and she invited Paul to come and stay – if he found her faithful (worthy of being seen with Paul and offering hospitality).  Paul and his groups readily went and stayed in Lydia’s home.  This was the beginning of the church in Philippi.  It began as a vision and the faithful, courageous response by Paul.  There was a vision calling him to come and this vision reflected the deep yearning of people, especially Lydia, in Philippi.  Life and hope in Christ came to the city.

I wonder what visions captivate us?  What drives you onward and upward?  What passion gets you out of bed and into the cut and thrust of living each day?  I suspect many are bored and have lost our sense of vision, their sense of hope and purpose.  Our nation suffers a lack of visionary leaders and the rhetoric is either bland or hate-filled and the vacuum is filled with superficial stuff and we bide our time.  We need the vision and passion of Paul (and Martin, Bob, Teresa…), a vision of God’s love!

By geoffstevenson

The Challenging Way of Love!

A young man once stood on a street corner, opened his coat, and cried, “Look at my heart, look at my perfect, perfect heart.” A crowd soon gathered, impressed by his perfect heart. They stood in awe of a heart without blemish, perfect and complete in every way.

Soon an old man walked by and paused to see what the commotion was all about. When he heard the young man proudly crying “Look at my perfect heart” the old man pushed his way to the front to get a closer look. And when he saw the young man’s heart he scolded him. “Son, that’s not a perfect heart. If you want to see a perfect heart you need to see mine.” With that the old man opened his coat to reveal and old, knotted and ugly heart. It was full of bumps and holes, and pieces of it had broken off here and there.

The crowd began to laugh, but the old man raised his hand and began to speak. “See this bump” he said, “That’s when I me my first love. Oh, how the sun shone that day, how bright the colours of the universe were, how sweet the swinging of the birds in the trees. What a wonderful moment it was…Ah, but see this hole, that’s when my first love and I broke up. How it pained me, and pains me still. But the hole once ran much deeper. The years have managed to fill it in a lot…See this bump, that’s when I me the woman who became my life partner. Oh, what a wonderful life we had – year after year of shared companionship, of laughter, tears and joy. This scratch here is when we had a blazing row that threatened to end our marriage – but we made up and moved on…Over here, this place where a piece of my heart has been broken off, this is when she passed away. Oh the ache – yes it still aches even today, for she took a part of my heart to the grave with her, but I trust she will return it to me someday…Ah, but here’s another great bump. This was when we began our family. You’ll notice the hole beside it. That’s when we learned we could not bear our own children. How hard it was to accept, how painful to live with. But the bump is when we got our adopted daughter – our very own beautiful little girl to raise as our own. And yes, there are scratches and indentations surrounding the bump – the times we fought and yelled. But always we learned to forgive, and so this bump grows ever bigger.”

The old man went on to describe many other bumps and holes and scratches on his heart, and when he finished the crowd was silent. “You see son” he said, turning to the young man with the unblemished heart, “yours is not a perfect heart, for it has not lived, it has not been touched with joy and tears and laughter and love and pain and anguish and hardship and celebration. Only when you are an old man like me will you be able to look upon a gnarled and battered heart and be able to say, ‘yes, now that is a perfect heart.'”

In a world of cliched ‘love’ themes, this story points to the difficult path, the road less travelled, of love and loving.  Love costs and can be painful as we give ourselves to someone else and become vulnerable before this love.  Scott Peck defines love as ‘the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’  This definition, along with Jesus’ words this week ‘…Love one another as I have loved you,’ (John 13:31-35) speak into the puzzling and challenging way of love.  Lifting us beyond the clichés and simplistic, fairy tale notions of love, these words open the way of love as giving of self.  This is confronting and often disturbing because everything in and around us tells us that we are the centre of all things, and love should be about us.  In our egocentric world, loving others without expectation of return feels ludicrous.  More than that, love takes time, energy and commitment and we are busy people.  We are also people who don’t readily know what to do.  I passed a couple of people in the Sydney CBD the other day – they were sitting on the footpath surrounded by their belongings and begging for money.  What should I have done?  Sling a few dollars their way, sit and chat, take them for a coffee or just ignore them and walk on?  Time was short, or so I told myself, and I didn’t have ready change (and wasn’t parting with 10 bucks), so I wandered on, wondering what was the loving thing to do.  Surely there are services that can help, places they can go for support…  What, though might be considered love?

In other situations, what seems love is more about my own need to be needed or acting from fear or some other personal feeling.  When parents hover over children, protecting them from every possible negative experience or hurt, are they loving the child or protecting their own feelings?  Are they doing the child good or harm?  Is this really love or something else that is ultimately selfish?

So, what is love?  Peck speaks of a commitment to the spiritual growth of self or another.  It is not an emotion or feeling, although emotions are often part and parcel of the experience of giving/receiving love.  For myself, spiritual growth often follows hard or harsh experiences and people providing honest truth and feedback rather than pandering to my egocentric or immature actions, thoughts or priorities.  I flinch when I am confronted by unbridled honesty but, ultimately appreciate the courage and integrity of the one who speaks truth in love.

Jesus invites us to love one another because it is in giving of ourselves that the world will change and find transformed, liberating life he offers. Love one another as I have loved you!’ Jesus’ love is about embracing each person as the unique and creative person that we each are.  He looked into the being of the person without judgement or definition.  He saw the hope, the pain, the vulnerability, fear and need that undergirded the responses of each person he encountered and wasn’t phased by the things people did.  He didn’t reel in fear before threatening others.  Nor did he back away from expressing things as they were.  If a person would find deeper life and growth by hearing confronting, honest words, that is the gift they received.  Beyond his words, it was how Jesus stood beside the weak and powerless, the yearning and seeking, and those who experienced injustice.  He listened and gave of himself without judgement.  In his deep love for other people there was deep and rich healing and liberation to live fully and deeply.

So, he invites us into this liberating, courageous way of life – to love one another as we are loved by God!  By this all will know the way of life and peace!  By this we will grow into a deeper, more compassionate life.  By this the world will be transformed from violence and fear to open love, grace and peace.  Love!

By geoffstevenson

What Voice(s) are you Listening to?

I recently read this in a book on psychological and spiritual growth and it stopped me, caused me to pause and ponder and to wonder…

“We are all driven by an inner restlessness.  We may feel this restlessness as a sense that something is missing in us, although it is usually difficult to define exactly what it is.  We have all sorts of notions about what we think we need or want – a better relationship, a better job, a better physique, a better car, and on and on.  We believe that if we acquire the perfect relationship or job or new ‘toy,’ the restlessness will go away, and we will feel satisfied and complete.  But experience teaches us that the new car makes us feel better for only a short time.  The new relationship may be wonderful, but it never quite fulfils us in the way we thought it would.  So what are we really looking for?” (‘The Wisdom of Enneagram’ – Don Riso and Ross Hudson).

 The authors go on to speak about the various ways we try to overcome this restlessness through the plethora of self-help manuals, courses and pop-psychology options available.  We may even try to transform ourselves into someone who we dream ourselves to be – we try and strive, and it works for a while, but it is hard to maintain some of the changes.  They are hard to sustain because there are elements foreign to our natural being and the restlessness and struggle returns.  The familiar distractions that hide our inner turmoil, frustration or restlessness prevail.

Through this journey of life and yearning there are voices that call out to us.  Some of these voices belong to the plethora of appealing, smooth and seductive sounds that promise the world and seem to require little of us except to sign on the dotted line.  The time-delayed calls that come at dinner time from strange places and promise they aren’t ‘selling anything’ and if we will just listen, we will find wondrous treasure stores awaiting us.  The solemn voices of those in the finance world who are concerned for our wealth accumulation and want to offer high wisdom that will result in joy, life and freedom.  Perhaps it is the travel magazines and web sites or ads that pop up and promise joy-filled days on secluded white beaches before sparkling blue waters and feasts laid out before us.   There are many voices and sometimes it becomes overwhelming to cut through to the one or two that are real and true and offer something that comes close to touching our inner yearning and calming our restlessness into deep peace and contentment.

In our distracted, busy, stressed state it is increasingly difficult to stop and listen carefully for the voice that we innately recognise, the one that sounds familiar and real.  Sometimes it is just too hard to stop and deal with the real struggle of life and listen to wisdom that requires something more of us – even if that something is the only way for us to find the place for which we yearn.

For many of us, we find ourselves caught in the space where we are relatively comfortable, even though there is an inner itch and restlessness that continues to subconsciously cause us unease and discomfort.  This discomfort is often existential and runs deep into the core of our being but can lie dormant as we distract ourselves with busy-ness and stimulating activities that keep us amused and excited – at least for a time, until boredom sets in and we seek the next stimulation to excite and distract us from helpless inner yearning.  Many people ride this cycle of stimulation, boom and bust, throughout their lives but never discover the true place at the centre of life that is peaceful and good.  Others are driven into this deep place quickly, abruptly and early as they are forced to make sense of deep pain and its vulnerable helplessness.  They hear the voice they recognise ringing through the cacophony of sound and follow its wisdom.

As we face a Federal election, we are all looking out for the people who will lead us well, the voice of wisdom who will take us deeper into who we are as people inhabiting this strange, fragile, ancient land.  We yearn for someone who will lead us and ensure security and care for all of us – especially the vulnerable and poor, the marginalised and hidden people who need help and support but who struggle.  We want to be egalitarian and we want someone good to lead us into becoming the best people we can be.  Sadly, there are few who have this focus or wisdom.  Most of us are frustrated by well-meaning people who, never-the-less, are more concerned with seeking their own place of power and selling their own ideology, than being wise leaders caring for the populace.

This week is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ in many churches, because the readings include Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my Shepherd…’) and John 10:22-30 (where Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd).  I confess that images of shepherds and sheep don’t really do it for me.  I see too much sentimentalism; lovely pictures of Jesus and sheep, all smiles and pleasant.  I don’t really know sheep.  I don’t understand the way of shepherds, but when I ponder the readings across the Jewish Scriptures, I hear that it is a metaphor for the leadership and refers to religious, political, and social leadership that serves the people.  Good shepherds care for the populace and especially hold the little ones in safety and care.  Throughout the Bible the leadership is often castigated as being poor shepherds who are not wise, compassionate, or just.  They are not the leaders people need – the people do not listen to their voices because they know the voice of those who are true!  I suspect this is true in our own time in our own land.  We are listening for the ‘voices’ that are true or ring true to our deeper being and connect with our yearning.  We are not hearing those voices and are disillusioned.  We are hearing a cacophony of confused noise.  Many are too tired to wrestle with this and cling to what they know or the ideology that they have held too through their lives, whether this is proving true and hopeful or just comfortable and known.

Jesus is asked by sceptics and adversaries, who benefit from the status quo, to tell them who he is and whether he is of God.  Jesus’ response is fascinating:  ‘Look at what I do and say – is this of God or not?’  He is asking if people see in his way of living, being, serving, speaking a way that resonates with the justice, compassion, love and peace that is derived from God.  If they listen and hear in him the voice of a true shepherd, then they will follow because their heart will soar with recognition and they will rest safely in God.

What about us?  Do we hear the voice we recognise?  This voice will not add more stuff to our wish list but lead us into the place of liberation to become who we are created to be, to become our true selves and find peace in God.

By geoffstevenson

Studying the Nature of the Fence…

A story…
A lion was taken into captivity and thrown into a concentration camp where, to his amazement, he found other lions who had been there for years, some all their lives, for they had been born there.  He soon became acquainted with social activities of the camp lions.  They banded themselves together into groups.

One group consisted of the socialisers; another was into show business; yet another was cultural for its purpose was to carefully preserve the customs, the tradition and the history of the times when lions were free; other groups were religious – they gathered mostly to sing moving songs about a future jungle where there would be no fences; some groups attracted those who were literary and artistic by nature; others were still revolutionary, they met to plot against their captors or against other revolutionary groups.  Every now and then a revolution would break out, one particular group would be wiped out by another, or the guards would all be killed and replaced by another set of guards.

As he looked around, the newcomer observed one lion who always seemed deep in thought, a loner who belonged to no group and mostly kept away from everyone.  There was something strange about him that commanded everyone’s admiration and everyone’s hostility for his presence aroused fear and self-doubt.

He said to the newcomer, ‘Join no group.  These poor fools are kept busy with everything except what is essential.’

‘And what is that?’ asked the newcomer.

‘Studying the nature of the fence.’  Nothing else matters!

One comment I read, in response to this story said:  The human condition is perfectly depicted in the case of the poor drunk standing late at night outside the park, beating on the fence and yelling, ‘Let me out!’  It is only our illusions that prevents us from seeing that we are – and always have been – free.

There are fences and fences – and fences!  We find ourselves locked in, locked out and often confused whether we are in or out or neither.  Ideology and systems of belief define how we think and how we respond to the world.  Some of these are religious systems of thought, interpretation, tradition or practice.  Some systems are ideological, such as political, economic, social, philosophical… Some have psychological groundings that drive us through culture and early nurture, as we take on the experiences of childhood and embrace them into our being without conscious recognition and understanding.  All too often we simply accept what we know and have been told is true and define life by these expectations.  Everything we experience and everyone we encounter is understood and interpreted through the lens of our ideology, our systems of belief.

We learn to know what is right and wrong, who is in and out, what is truth and how to think, act and believe.  In religious experiences we determine who belongs and who doesn’t, who and how people are judged and on what basis.  We also seek to define and control how we think about God.  It is based on knoweldge and definition, control and power.  It also grows stronger through fear.

When people condemn religious actions or practices as being exclusive, judgemental, hate-filled or even abusive, they are usually responding to the systems of belief that adherents of that religion have built up around their form of faith, rather than the faith itself.  Last Sunday evening I, along with several other religious leaders around Parramatta/Auburn were invited to a vigil for the victims of the Sri Lankan bombings.  It was hosted by the Austral-Lankan Muslim Association and featured speakers from Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian faiths.  Each of us recognised that those who were responsible for these bombings (no less than those responsible for the Christchurch bombings), were not people who embraced deep spirituality or the religious truths of Islam (in the case of Sri Lanka) or Christian or other (or no) faith (in Christchurch).  These people were obsessed by systems of belief that trapped them in bizzare and hate-filled ideologies leading to horrific actions that can only be described as evil.

In our readings this week (Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19), we hear stories of transformation.  The story in the book of Acts tells how a fanatic zealot called Saul was hell-bent on ridding their world of the early Christians.  He was a pious, faithful, fanatical Jew of the Pharisee Party.  Saul rabidly set out to round up and imprison the Christians.  He was on the road to Damascus, where his mission was focussed.  A sudden vision of light blinded him and a voice sent him to his knees in fear and helplessness.  He found himself humbled and vulnerable, confused about what was happening.  He was no longer in control of anything, including himself and was led into the city and to a household of Christians who cared for him and explained his mystical experience.  For Saul, this became a liberating experience where his ideology broke down.  His exclusiveness and judgementalism fell away as he suddenly recognised his own ignorance and his world turned upside down.  Saul became Paul and his encounter with resurrection, the Spirit of Christ led him into the way of love and grace.  The one who judged everyone by exclusive, narrow laws and definitions, later wrote: ‘In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.  In Christ we are all one.’

Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ, the Spirit of God, brought him unstuck as his ideological system of belief fell apart and released him into the way of love.

In the second reading we hear of the Risen Christ encountering the disciples who had returned to their former lives after his death.  They went back to what they knew, business as it was.  Into this life of daily struggle where they failed to make a catch for the night, the Risen Christ tells them to try the other side and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul them in.  They ate breakfast on the beach and Jesus engaged Peter who denied him.  Peter was asked three times ‘Do you love me?’ Three times he answered ‘Yes, you know that I do.’  The response of the Risen Christ was to commission him to feed the sheep of God’s people.  Peter and the disciples have their lives thrust into new directions.  Business as usual will not be their way.  Their way is the way of Jesus and the way of God – to share love and grace and live for justice before the powers of the world.  They (and we!) are vulnerable and little ones through whom God will work to transform the world.

By geoffstevenson