The Puppet Message

Meet Holly.  She’s a close friend of mine.  We first met in about 2002, when she joined our ministry team for our Avenues Church.  From the first moment I met Holly, her personality was evident. She’s strong-minded, feisty, feminist and opinionated.  We got Holly on board as a creative way of introducing things that sometimes needed words and explanation.  She fitted with our All-Age Worship and added to the visual atmosphere.  What we didn’t anticipate was the way that she’d be received.  Right from the start she was a winning addition to our team.  And the enthusiasm surprisingly, was not just from the children.  She added a bit of humour and colour and energy to our worship.  She also, through her stark honesty, curiosity and contradictory nature, helped us to focus our thinking and ask more questions in a setting where interaction was encouraged.  People interacted with her.  They argued with her and asked her questions.  They laughed with her and told her jokes and stories.  She provoked reaction.  And she was never short of something to say.

Of course, despite the arguments that Holly and I frequently have, Holly is always on message.  The message I want to convey.  While she might challenge what I say at times, she always comes around to agreeing with the point that I want to raise.  This is hardly surprising.  Even though Holly has her own personality, she’s a part of me.  Holly is a puppet.  The only person who controls Holly is me.  I am the one who ‘thinks’ her, I ‘voice’ her, I ‘act’ her.  She’s a version of me and my thinking.  It is impossible for her to be anything different.  Without me breathing life into her, she is just like a rag doll.

I’ve been pondering lately about the way I hear people sometimes talk about Jesus.  Some people say they’re a Christian and then state their personal view on all the things that Jesus would and wouldn’t agree with.  They challenge individuals, they hurt and damage and cause unhappiness, they create rules and put up fences – all in the name of Jesus.  The things they say, don’t tally up with my view of Jesus at all. They sound to me like they are treating Jesus like their puppet.  His message becomes what they want it to be and his voice becomes theirs and not his own.  But Jesus is not like Holly.  He’s not a puppet.  And for any human to choose to be a mouthpiece for the person of Jesus is a brave and risky thing to do.

Of course anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus, a Christian, does become a mouthpiece for the person of Jesus. Whether they intend to or not, want to or not, inevitably others around them will immediately view them as such.  The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to take this responsibility seriously.   How can we really know Jesus?  How can we dare to act as if we know Jesus so closely it is as if we are actually Jesus himself?  How can we actually be qualified to be the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ?  What does this actually mean for us?  What does it mean for Jesus?

This is where the concept of ‘follower’ can make us breathe a sigh of relief.  If we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, then we acknowledge that we are on a journey following him.  We’re a ‘follower of Jesus’.  We’re not Jesus himself.  We’re on a journey toward Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus.  We’re following Jesus, moving towards him, being guided and supported and even carried by him, understanding him more and more as time passes.  He’s in our sight, he’s urging us on, he’s guiding us, letting us rest against him, sustaining us, rejuvenating us. The journey is always changing. When we want to be on it, it is never truly stopped. And the joy of being a follower of Jesus is found in the journey itself.  We’re not at the destination yet, we’re on the road towards it.

This is why groups of followers gather together to talk about Jesus, to share food and conversation, struggles and joys, to sing their praises to Jesus for the journey and to pray for their own needs and the needs of others around them.  This is why followers of Jesus read the Bible over and over again and talk about what they’ve discovered about the person of Jesus in the pages of the gospels.  This is why followers of Jesus after reading about his teachings, his miracles, his stories, look outward beyond themselves, to others around them, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, protecting the refugee, supporting the oppressed, advocating for the marginalised, healing the sick, grieving with the dying, crying with the ostracised. This is why followers of Jesus increasingly value the characteristics of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, humility, kindness to name a few and incorporate these characteristics into their lives.  This is why followers of Jesus look eagerly for Jesus at work around them in God’s creation and actively engage in being part of that work and bringing it to fruitfulness.  This is why followers joining together share a memory meal of Jesus Christ.  This is why followers of Jesus see potential in the journey.

If we call ourselves followers of Jesus we need to be people of faith who constantly strive to understand Jesus’ message and allow ourselves to be internally changed by Jesus.  To keep travelling the Christian faith journey, constantly growing and changing and evolving in understanding.  To view our faith as a work in progress, a moving forward work in progress, a frail, human, underwhelming attempt to understand and reflect Jesus to others who may or may not be on the journey too.

And when we open our mouths to say words that represent Jesus, we need to be ever so aware that Jesus is not our puppet.

Perform a u-turn whenever possible

Last week in morning peak hour traffic, I had to drive our youngest daughter across the city for an exam.  It was a last minute panic, as she’d assumed her exam would be in the city, and had she known it was at a different campus she would have stayed in the city, rather than coming home to Whangaparaoa for the night.  I knew roughly where I was going, but thought I’d better rely on the GPS just in case!  I set the route before I left home but didn’t push start until we were near the motorway off ramp I was expecting it to tell me to take, as for the first hour of our journey we were on the main highway south and didn’t need any help.

After I pushed start, but before we got to the off ramp it wanted me to take, we passed a couple of other off-ramps and the GPS obligingly said, “In 200 metres continue straight” and “In 500 metres continue straight.” We remarked on this together, the way that the GPS doesn’t talk in negative language.  It doesn’t for instance say, “Do not take the next off ramp,” and interestingly, it doesn’t ignore the off-ramp.   I wonder if the inventors worked on giving it positive language?

When we neared the university campus, I started to ignore the GPS altogether.  It was a reasonable sized campus with roads inside of it, so I assumed the GPS was targeting somewhere in the middle, whereas, we had a fair idea of the location of the building of the exam so I could drop her near there.   The GPS did not like this behaviour of mine and as I dropped daughter off, the GPS was intently advising me to, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible”.   I continued to ignore it, fairly sure I was on a loop road and if I followed it I’d come out back on the road again.  The GPS continued telling me to perform a U-turn until I was back on the road, when it started “Recalculating route” and adjusting its instructions to match my new location.

With a good second hour in the car ahead of me, I began to muse about the metaphor of the GPS and its positive language.  It was the, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible” that got me thinking about repentance.   The Contemporary English Version of the Bible uses the words, “Turn back” instead of the word, “repent” that is used in some translations:  eg. At the start of his ministry in Matthew 4: 17 “Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”  Turn back, repent, perform a u-turn… these are the same thing.  Change your ways, change your direction, get back on course… repent!

When we have our eyes on the goal of God’s kingdom, our destination is ahead of us, but our path to get there involves both the familiar and unfamiliar.  We will go down roads that we understand and don’t need any navigational help.  We’ll go down other roads where we need all the navigational help we can get.  We know there are many routes to choose from, many different ways to get to where we are going.  Sometimes we’ll make a wrong turn and God will gently nudge us to ‘perform a u-turn as soon as possible’.  Sometimes we’ll listen and other times we’ll go so far down the wrong route that God will help us recalculate the route that we’re taking.

I was thinking about the positive language of the GPS and the way that God gently guides us and forgives us when we stuff up.  We don’t see Jesus coming alongside people in the gospels and giving them a long lecture of all the things they’ve done wrong before he heals them.  We see Jesus showing compassion, love and kindness towards people, as well as preaching to people about doing some really tough stuff… such as looking after the poor and the sick and the needy.   We see gentle and challenge in the same stories.

There is something rather tricky about repentance and forgiveness.  It is God’s grace that keeps on forgiving us, time and again, recalculating our route for us, and doing it all gently, lovingly and kindly.  And for some of us there is a temptation to keep on going our own way, knowing that forgiveness is available.  But if we have truly repented and truly felt ourselves forgiven, if we’ve performed a u turn and are on a recalculated route, if we’re trying our best to follow God, then even if we make the occasional wrong turn, our hunger for staying on God’s route increases.  So while we might hear someone saying that they can keep on doing their own thing because God will forgive them, we know that they’re travelling a route that is not going to a Godly destination, it’s lacking, unsatisfying and may not get them to their destination at all.

There is always the need for repentance for all of us, there is always the frailty of our human nature, our selfishness, greed and pride, the things that keep getting in the way of us being like Jesus Christ.   Even when we’re pretty good at following God’s route, we still need to perform u-turns.  We also need to watch out for others on the journey, to help others perform u-turns and to be there to forgive and help them to make choices on the journey that will take them closer to God’s will for their lives.  We want to introduce them to our God, who is loving, just and merciful.  Just like the GPS that won’t be negative, there are no choices that we’ve made, no terrible things we’ve done that can separate us from God.  God is waiting with open arms to embrace the people of this world to perform u-turns and come back to him.

Farm Fresh Organic Eggs and the Still Small Voice of God

‘If you could choose only one food, what food would you choose to not live without?’  That seemingly lightweight question that people ask sometimes for fun… and for most of my life, ‘chocolate’ would have been the first word on my lips, but with my recent health challenges, I’ve had to radically rethink my answer.

Since last November my diet has been lacking in variety.  Amongst a few other things, I’ve been eating eggs! I’ve always liked eggs, but I would never have thought them to be my ‘can’t live without food’.  How things change.  Currently they truly are a super food to me!

I’ve become obsessive about them, and very particular!  They have to be fresh and they have to be free range.  It’s all about nuances and subtle differences – I mean we’ve never stocked our pantry with reject eggs!  But as eggs make up at least one of my daily meals I’ve become a fussy egg connoisseur.  Does such a thing exist?  You hear of wine connoisseurs, but eggs???

I had such a special gift a couple of weeks ago.   Andrew was leading a church service at the country church in his parish and they had a harvest festival.  When he came home with six eggs, freshly laid that morning I was extremely elated, causing a lot of laughter in our household as I made it clear to the family (and a guest we had staying), that the eggs were mine only so hands-off everyone!!

It set me to thinking that by simplifying my diet and focussing on eggs, I have been able to notice the subtleties of eggs so much.  Whether it’s, the way the egg poaches, the size or softness of the yolk, the colour of the yolk, the flavour when I eat it – I notice it all now.

I can hear my children groaning, “Here comes Mum with another metaphor!”  So I will not disappoint them!  Yep, I can see a metaphor for our own God journeys.   In this case, I was thinking how my new found appreciation of the subtleties and nuances in different eggs, is a bit like our conversations with God.   When we’re surrounded by a cacophony of noises, hearing God’s voice in our lives is hard work.  When we’re only talking to God occasionally on a, ‘I need something from you now God’ way, it’s almost impossible to know what is God’s voice and what is our own voice reverberating in our heads with our hopes and dreams.

My Aunty Ada was a distant cousin on my mother’s side.  When I was a teenager she used to visit us to stay sometimes.  Having an elderly guest in a house full of energy and the teenage activity of me and my three brothers might sound like a problem, but Aunty Ada was a welcome guest.  She was a very little lady with twinkling mischievous eyes, a sense of humour and a wicked laugh.  She was also a ‘rebellious nun’ (her words).   By rebellious I think what she meant was that she didn’t like being obedient within the institution of the church if it didn’t make sense to her and she as always looking at ways to challenge things.  It wasn’t that she was rebellious against God.  Having lived a very secluded life, she was amazingly knowing, intelligent and insightful about people. The power of prayer was strong in Aunty Ada. She prayed about everything and when she talked about God she sounded like her entire everyday life was one long conversation with God.   She always wanted fresh things to pray about and to know that she was praying for you was an extremely good feeling.  She was one of those rare souls who really ‘walked with God’ and her answers to prayer were amazing and breathtakingly spot on, time after time.

Eileen was also a little old lady, married to an energetic and extrovert Irishman.  With rosy pink cheeks and a warm smile, she was the quiet one.  Her husband, a church elder, was active and busy both in local church life and in para-church organisations.  He never sat still, and wherever he went, Eileen went with him, quietly supporting him in all that he undertook.  While her husband was often in upfront roles, including leading worship on a regular basis, where we were treated to upbeat rousing hymns sung with gusto and energy, Eileen was always the unassuming and quiet one.  But Eileen was neither invisible nor overlooked.  When Eileen spoke, people listened.  Because Eileen heard from God.  Often.  Sometimes Eileen would say, “I believe the Lord is saying…” and there would be a collective intake of breath, the hairs on the back of the neck prickling sensation around the congregation.  Eileen’s words from God were so carefully given, and so amazingly spot on.  She was also a woman who ‘walked with God’.

It is interesting how often in the scriptures we see God talking in the stillness and silence.  I loved the story of Samuel as a child and young teen.  The idea that God was calling out to Samuel in the middle of the night and eventually Samuel responds, ‘Speak Lord!  Your servant is listening.’ (You can read it in 1 Samuel 3 ) God spoke to Samuel and Samuel listened to God.

I do believe that God can speak to any of us, but I also know that life is noisy and finding time to listen to God is all too easy to reduce to the times when we want something from God.   We fill our days with a multitude of voices, and it can be hard to hear God’s voice amongst the competing noise.   It’s not that we don’t want to hear God, or even that we can’t hear God.  But in the same way as my change in eating habits has made me an egg connoisseur, hearing God’s voice requires regular prayer and times of silence when we stop to listen.

This is of course why retreat centres and health spas exist.  People need to take time out of their busy lives and their ordinary routines and stop.  Stop, relax and be refreshed.  Stop and reflect.  Stop and be.  Stop and think.  Stop and pray.   Hearing God’s voice is available to all of us.  But we have to be ready to listen.  We have to find the time and the space, and (just like noticing the subtleties and nuances of eggs) the more we do it, the more we hear from God.  I love this paraphrase from The Message of Psalm 46:8

Many Christians past and present have made a regular pattern of prayer in the early morning or in the dark evening.  There is something about the half-light or night light that makes it easier to be soothed and relaxed.   Some people like to walk and pray, or sit in a peaceful spot, or kneel to pray. Others like to pray before they fall asleep at night or when they first awake in the morning.  Whatever it is, having a pattern of prayer and listening to God, means whatever comes, good or bad, in the journey of our lives, we have the time and space as well as the practise of praying and listening about everything that is going on in our lives and in the lives of people near and far around us.   When God speaks we are not only ready to listen, we also hear the subtleties and the nuances.

We live in busy and noisy times, but God is not too busy to listen to us, ever!  While simplifying our lives might not be possible, maybe it is possible to simplify a portion of time in the regular routine of our days and focus on prayer.   A regular routine of speaking and listening to God, through the good, the bad and the average days of our ordinary lives.  And expect to hear the still small voice of God!

(Photo credit: my perfect breakfast)

Light in the Darkness

Our family is using the 25 Stockings book each night at the dinner table.  As well as three versions of homemade ’25 Stockings’ hanging across the room, our 19 year old daughter bought an Advent candle this year. It’s one of those candles with incremental marks down it from 1 – 25.  So each night when we are all together we light the candle as we eat our dinner.  This requires very careful watching because although the candle starts off burning slowly, all of a sudden the wax drips down the side and the mark is reached for the day and it’s time to blow out the candle.

Once we’ve finished eating we read the bible passage. Because our children have always had this experience (I started writing the book when I was 19!) they love the three questions so we have to include that, and then we usually read the reflection and the prayer.

A couple of nights ago we also did the Discussion Time talking about darkness and times when we’ve been in the dark and turned on a light and how this makes a difference and of course how this relates to the metaphor of God’s love.  We had a satisfying conversation about light and darkness and times we’ve each felt God’s presence.   It was nice sitting there in front of a candle and talking about the impact of light that a single candle creates in a darkened room.

Last night I wasn’t feeling so good and although I went to bed early, I was up and down all night.  At first the rest of the family were still all up so while my room was in darkness, the rest of the house was a blaze of light.  By about midnight, 17’s door was shut and I figured he had turned in for the night. But sometime after 1, when I was up again and the rest of the house was this time in darkness too, I reasonably thought everyone else had now gone to bed.  But… around 17’s closed door was a silhouette of light.  (Not that, there was anything wrong with him still being up – he is on holiday)

I was pondering the idea that I had only seen the light around his door because the rest of the house was in darkness.  It was kind of the opposite thinking of our earlier discussion talking about darkness and the difference that happens when a candle is lit.  (Okay, I know it sounds like the same thing but bear with me.)  The light had been on all the time, but I only saw that it was on when the rest of the house changed from light to dark.

So maybe sometimes the metaphor is that we can be like a light in the darkness for others just like a candle lighting up the darkness.  And maybe other times we are part of a larger group of lights, indistinguishable as individuals until we are separated and stand as a solitary light in darkness.

I’ve really liked the metaphor as a follower of Jesus, of being a light in the darkness, or being salt adding flavour to the world.  But I also think there is a balance and when we are being ‘light’ we carry on being true to our call to follow Jesus and be light to the world, by both gathering with a larger group of other ‘lights’ and also living, working and spending time on our own with others who are not followers of Jesus, and therefore hopefully bringing light to their darkness.

It’s a balance that is a struggle and maybe always changing.  There is something wonderful and refreshing for followers to spend large amounts of time with other followers of Jesus.  And maybe at different times in our lives we need this fellowship more than other times.   But if we spend all of our time with our friends from our church groups, then how much is our light shining noticeably to others?  And if we spend too much time with others who are not followers of Jesus, are we in danger of our light ‘battery’ running out or our candle burning until the flame is extinguished.

Anyway, that was my middle of the night musing… instead of sleeping!  Just thought I’d share it.

In another language, in another country, in another space

Well it’s been a while since my last post… and a lot has happened sandwiched between the last entry and this one!  I’m not going to tell you the whole story, but over the next few months maybe bits and pieces of it will gradually be told.  But I didn’t want to leave this blog looking empty and neglected any longer.  The shortened version is that a few weeks ago, I found myself in a hospital in the town of Pirna, Germany, having emergency surgery! Not quite the holiday experience we’d dreamed and planned.  Following the surgery I spent two and a half weeks in hospital, then a night in a hotel, a 40 hour journey home and a ‘lost’ week at home before the NZ specialist sent me back into hospital for a further week.  Now I’m recovering at home… but this is a bit of my story from Germany…

There were a small handful of people who spoke some English among the staff, but for most of the nurses, they had no English and unfortunately I had no German.    It was an interesting experience in learning about communication without words.  While I was in intensive care my two wonderful daytime nurses did have some English and we got by with the odd words and dramatic gestures,  but when I moved to a general ward it was different.  Retrospectively, I wonder if it was deliberate that my first two nurses could speak some English. Once in the general ward, some of the younger nurses or student nurses had some English, but the older nurses had grown up in the days of the GDR and had learned Russian at school.  (No, I don’t speak Russian either!)  The staff were all amazing and I could not get over their care and compassion despite the language barrier.

My surgeon had the most amazing smile. I only met her after the surgery and when she first came in the room, in a group of doctors, I knew immediately that she was my surgeon, even before she’d introduced herself.  She had a glow around her head and I felt such a sense of warmth on sight.  She had lovely long fingers and when she changed my dressings and looked at my surgery she had the gentlest yet confident touch. She had absolutely no English, but she would pre-practice some key words to talk to me and then draw me pictures or gesture.  Communicating with her was a little like playing Pictionary.  I will always remember her as an angel.  She was my first angel.

My second angel was also there when I came out of the anaesthetic, also recognisable by a glow around her head, so I knew she was someone significant,  but it took me almost a week to find out that she was my Lead Doctor and actually the head of the hospital.   On my second day in the general ward I was uncomfortable with bags and tubes coming out of me.  I didn’t know who to ask for, and what I wanted to ask them.  So I just kept thinking of her face and praying that she’d come and see me because I somehow thought she’d know how to help.  She appeared by my bed in her street clothes – I think it was her day off.  I was ecstatic to see her “Oh, I’m so glad to see your face,  I’ve been hoping you’d come!”  She ordered the bag that was going through my nose to come out and stood over the nurse until it happened.  Even so, it was still another few days before I realised that she was the boss!  One day I asked her how many English speaking patients they had at the hospital, and found to my surprise that I was the first ever!

Necessity meant I had to communicate, and with the help of a tablet and German translator app, I had a resource which was frequently in use.  But there were many times when words became redundant, and I was intrigued how quickly I adapted and how well my nurses nursed me without words.  There was one particularly wonderful nurse on my general ward who was my third angel.  She never tried a word of English but she clucked and fussed over me, making me comfortable, guessing my needs and filling me with relief and confidence.  One night I when I was particularly in pain, so much so that I hadn’t thought to push the button for the nurse, she appeared in my doorway, a golden glow around her head.    “How did you know I needed you?”  I asked her.  She soothingly clucked away and came in and tucked my legs so I was comfortable and adjusted my pillows.  Of course she hadn’t understood my question, but by her actions, I was sure that she answered me, saying something like, “I just knew you were uncomfortable, so I came into help you.”   Whatever she replied… I was comforted and back asleep in no time.

Several people have said how much I will want to forget my time in hospital.  I hope I don’t forget it.  It was a time of great privilege for me.  I’ve always hoped that in a time of darkness, my faith would stay strong and this time it did.  From the moment in the A&E department, when the surgeon told me the news that I had to have emergency surgery and didn’t have time to get back to New Zealand, I had an amazing sense of peace wash over me. I had an image of being held in God’s arms.  Both the feeling of peace and the image of God holding me stayed with me throughout my time in hospital.

And words… the currency I deal with for most of my daily life, in both written and spoken form… all became sideshows to the languages of touch, gestures and images and that special something extra that can only come from God.

(Photo credit: the Krankenhaus (hospital) taken on the day I managed the first big walk outside!

Religiously – imbued with salt and light

The other day I was taking part in a conversation at a meeting which seemed far removed from a religious context.  In my work-a-day construction environment the discussion involved developing a strategy around working with a difficult individual.   Someone present used the term ‘religiously’ to describe a negative characteristic of this individual.  There was a general murmur of agreement to this description.

Afterward I was reflecting on the use of the word ‘religiously.’  What the speaker had meant to convey was the negative idea of an over-zealous, intense individual who was committed to the strict pre-determined routine rather than coming at a problem with an open mind and a creative and flexible approach that would deliver a workable solution.   Hmm…   It made me think about the other times when I’ve heard ‘religious’ used in a negative context… and how a word that should be a positive is often used negatively.

I looked up the definition of ‘religiously’ on and it didn’t really help explain why the word can be used negatively.  I love this defintion of ‘imbued with religion’…  that works for me and my faith journey…  living a life imbued with the Christian faith in every aspect of the journey is something that is always my desire.

It reminded me of another conversation over a cup of coffee when I had just taken a leadership role in a community group a few years back.  I met with a woman who was not a friend at the time and had some influence in the group.  She was a no nonsense business woman and she started our conversation after initial pleasantries, with getting straight to the point.  “I don’t like religious types and I have serious concerns with you taking on this role. ”  Oh great…  now to dig myself out of that hole… “I am religious, but… ”   Fast forward a few months and perhaps surprisingly, I had a new friend.  I’d somehow navigated the path of maintaining my ‘religiousness’ with enough real life authenticity to change her viewpoint on my type of religious type.

That’s just two examples, but when I stop to think, there are plenty of times that I’ve heard about ‘religious nutters’ and the like.  And I wonder, how do I live out my faith in a way that is both true to the Christian religious teachings that are the framework of my faith and conveys a positive impression on those who sit outside of any Christian religious circles.

Perhaps there is a challenge for us in understanding, interpreting and living the word, ‘religious’.  I think for me the images I like to use to define my religious behavior and lifestyle are those of salt and light.   Matthew 5:13-15 says, “You are like salt for everyone on earth.  But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.  You are like light for the whole world.  A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot.  A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house.”

Most of our household likes watching the reality TV cooking shows, ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘Masterchef’.  We get hooked on the competitions, rivalries, personalities and the cooking skills and it makes good winter time television watching.  Invariably and frequently the judges always go on about seasoning…  it seems that even when you’re good enough at home cooking to get all the way through to the finalists, doing something as simple as salting your food can be the difference of a winning dish or not.  I think being a salty Christian is one of my religious goals.  I like the idea of being a flavor enhancer and a preserver of the faith.

Thinking about the image of light, events of this last weekend, come to mind, when we had three nephews and a niece come and stay.  The two older boys at ages 8 & 6 were very thrilled with their sleeping arrangement on a double bed air mattress in front of the TV in the lounge.  The younger 3 year old was not quite as impressed with his mattress in the study next to his sister’s cot.  This might have been why when he woke long before the birds and the sun, he went and jumped on his brothers bed, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Hey guys is it still dark?”  When questioned as to why he’d woken everyone in the entire household up with a question that he could have answered himself by observation, he explained, “Well I didn’t know if it was still dark because I couldn’t see.”  ….  !!  (Okay,  so only the logics of a very verbal three year old could come up with that as an answer!)  That’s the thing with light – even a small glow can light up a large dark space.  A little bit of light cancels out darkness.  Maybe asking whether it is still dark is a question to test our religiousness…  is it still dark… or is the light of our faith, lighting up the way for others as well as ourselves?  It’s a nice picture, the impact of even a little light.

So to conclude this religious ramble…  I think that for the word ‘religiously’ to be viewed as a positive characteristic… it means ensuring our Christian faith journeys must be genuine and authentic experiences of salt and light religion…  and that is always far harder and more challenging than it sounds!

(Photo credit: salt and light on my dining room table)

A good question

After I trained as a primary school teacher, I fully intended to teach 10 to 12 year olds.  I’d focussed on this age group throughout my training, only delivering the minimum requirements for any other age group in my assignments and practicals. I was confident that I  knew what I was doing.  In my local church I’d co-lead a very vibrant group of pre-teens for a couple of years and I was really comfortable with what I thought was going to happen next.

And then… the bend in the road!  When it came to getting a job, there weren’t any… and surprisingly after a few months of looking, I found myself the teacher of 5 – 7 year olds!  Who knows what is around the corner sometimes?  Sometimes when you look back on life you see a critical  point in your journey where a key event changed the course of your journey forever.

It was my classes who showed me the value of a good question rather than an easy answer.  The questions were never ending.  Hungry for discovering new things about the world around them, I was blown away by the depth of the questions and the persistency of keeping on with the journey of discovery.  Every day questions flowed about everything imaginable, and it was in this place and time that my formation thinking of discovery worship has its roots.  And my love of questions was encouraged.

No matter what the subject, the depth of questioning skill was complex and always pushing forward. It struck me then that the questions  I was being asked about all kinds of topics were better questions than many adults already on a faith journey were asking about their faith.  And I started to wonder what happens to us as we get older or as we spend more time in church life.  It seems sometimes that the ability to question is cut off at the knees.  What happens? Is it that we get embarressed about what we don’t know?  Is it viewed as a sign of weakness to have a question?  Or is it that we settle for the easy answer and are happy to not push deeper with tricky questions?  Or do we just lose some our inquisitiveness?  Maybe we think we’ve found the answer and are comfortable to stop questioning.

When we started Avenues we wanted to have a safe environment where questions are encouraged, promoted and non-threatening.  We wanted to make our Church experiences not about ‘knowing the right answer’ but ‘asking the right question’.  And we wanted the process of discovery to be something that all ages could participate in, and people of all different stages of faith could feel was a non-threatening environment.

My teenage daughter was recently reflecting on the way our Avenues Church promotes questioning as a good thing.  She was involved in a dialogue at university with a Christian girl who assumed as the daughter of two ministers our daughter would have doubts about her faith.  Daughter explained that having a question doesn’t mean that you have doubts, it just means you want to understand something more.  If you always have questions you don’t have doubts, because doubts just turn into questions.  This was a refreshing idea to her companion.

Our next Kereru book is a book that has already been published in print form in 2010.  Brian K. Smith’s ‘Who Made God? And Other Tricky Questions’ will be available in the next few days on our website as an eBook.  We are very excited about having this available again.  We’ve already used it a few years back in our Avenues Church and can honestly endorse it for use with children and adults of all ages and stages.  Subtitled as ‘A theology for Children with Help for Mum and Dad’, I hope that it is used by all ages and stages.  Sure it will help answer some of those tricky questions that bright eyed open minded kids love to ask… but I hope it will also entice some adults to ask some tricky questions too and discover more about faith.  It’s a great little book with lots of big thoughts and has plenty of big and little print sections.  The idea is that the big print is for the kids and the small print is for the adults… but I’m hoping that people of all ages will mix it up depending on their own journey!

(Photo credit: Adobe stock image)

Discovery journey around South Island

If I had to name one metaphor that I keep returning to, time and again it would be ‘Bend in the Road’.    I love roads and journeys and metaphors…   and I have many, many stories that fit within the particular metaphor of Bend in the Road. I guess some of them will appear in this blog over time.

So, to start with just one story…  We had a family road trip a few years back around the South Island of New Zealand.   It happened at a time in our ministry lives when Andrew and I had reached a ‘Bend’.  The thing with bends in the road is that you don’t always know about them in advance, you are not prepared for them and all of a sudden you have to navigate, with no idea of what is around the corner.

On this particular ‘Bend’, together, we rather suddenly decided to change direction and it coincided with our two youngest being on school holiday.  So, just before we moved Church, house, school and community, off we went on our adventure around the South Island.  Initially there was great resistance to the idea of a road trip.  The kids did not think being in the car for a couple of weeks sounded like a great holiday at all.

But we packed up the car.  It was precision packing, everything had its place and for two weeks it would be our home base, the four of us, the car, a road to follow and an adventure ahead.  And off we went.  With only a night or two at each stop, staying in cabins in holiday parks, with only a vague idea of our ‘nightly pit stops’ we travelled our way around the Island for a couple of weeks.   There were holiday rules that we made up as we went along…  Such as the competition that we had to swim in every lake we came to…  and even in summer the mountain lakes were icy cold!  There was the condition that if one of us wanted to stop, we’d all stop… and so from stop to stop we travelled.

There were a few things we discovered as we journeyed.  For one thing, we all agreed that we loved the journey.  We also found that we quite liked following the road, not quite sure what we’d find next, having a rough idea, but being surprised and delighted by the detail of what we encountered. Far from boredom, the kids became eager for each new day’s discoveries.  And by the time our road trip was over, we were all agreed that road trips were a great way to holiday, that as a start to our new yet to be discovered next stage of our family journey, this was an eye opening way to begin.  We agreed that the South Island of New Zealand is amazing!  And we discovered as a family, that we liked discovering together.

All of which is a metaphor for the idea of discovery worship.  The concept that in our worship together we journey in discovering more about our faith and relationship with, Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit… and how this journey impacts our daily living. We can’t see around the bend in the road, but we journey together on a path of Christian faith.  We roughly know where we’re headed, we have a map of sorts, determination and enthusiasm, but the details are yet to be revealed.

Discovery worship is empowering.  It give participants the opportunity to take steps on the faith journey at  their own pace, chart their course alongside others on the journey, have a rough idea of the destination of their journey, but the details worked out within the framework of Christian faith.  The journey of discovery is for everyone, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, educated or uneducated.

And resources for the journey of discovery are what we are aiming to provide with Kereru Publishing.

(Photo credit:  From our family snaps of our adventure – swimming in every lake 2008)